Wadena residents take stock of their losses after tornadoby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Wadena, Minn. — Wadena city officials estimate about 25 homes were flattened in the city in Thursday's tornado, and about 230 buildings were damaged, many beyond repair.
Gladys Kaufman and her family are salvaging what they can from her home on the city's southwest side. Kaufman said she was glad she and her husband weren't home when the tornado hit, but she was stunned when they first saw the damage.
"It's just a total shock," she said. "It's like a dream, you know. You never think it's going to happen to you. It gives you a different outlook on life, that's for sure. You know that these tornadoes are serious."
There used to be a garage on the west side of Kaufman's home, but it's gone. Most of the windows are smashed and there's lots of roof damage. Kaufman said her insurance company declared it a total loss.
"But I think we will rebuild here, because we like the spot, and you can't run away from Mother Nature," she said. "It's going to get you if it's your time."
Just up the street, B.J. Fink searches for pieces of weight lifting equipment that are scattered in his yard. Fink's home is also considered a total loss. There's a big hole in the roof and his garage and a backyard shed are gone.
"And then back there is my workout room, my hot tub room, I guess. That's gone," Fink said. "My hot tub landed at the next door neighbor's house."
Wadena city crews have hauled away close to a thousand truck loads of debris, mostly from fallen trees. It will be up to residents to hire contractors to haul away demolition debris. Most of the materials are headed for a site near the community airport, where they'll recycling what they can.
Joe Schoon, a Wadena County deputy who's in charge of coordinating volunteer crews said initially volunteers weren't allowed into the worst-hit neighborhoods. Those areas were considered unsafe because of gas leaks and downed power lines. Schoon said many volunteers were sent outside the city.
"North of town here, we've got residents that were hit pretty badly," he said. "Otter Tail County, just directly west of us, we're sending volunteer crews out there to help with cleanup. We've got a lot of farms that were wiped out. The devastation is very widespread."
For now, Wadena officials aren't calling for volunteers from outside their community. Judy Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the city, said the community may be ready for a big push for volunteers in a few days.
"The need here is great. We're going to need a lot of help with a lot of volunteers, but we're just not ready at this point to have people storming into town," she said. "We're actually trying to keep people away so we can kind of secure the town and make it safe."
Jacobs encourages people interested in helping the city of Wadena to check the city's web site, wadena.org, for information.
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are expected to tour Wadena and other tornado damaged areas of Minnesota in the coming days to assess damage to public infrastructure. Those inspectors will determine whether damage statewide meets the threshhold to get financial help from the federal government.
- Morning Edition, 06/22/2010, 7:25 a.m.