Rebuilding and healing underway in Albert Leaby Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
Albert Lea, Minn. — Video camera in hand, Michael Callahan provided a play-by-play description of the fast-approaching tornado.
"God, he's coming right down on us," Callahan said on the tape.
On June 17, a massive tornado moved through the countryside near Albert Lea, steaming toward Callahan's home.
Also in the house that night was Callahan's daughter, Jordann Kunkel. On the videotape, she yells at her dad to get downstairs.
"Dad, run ... get down here dad, let's go," Kunkel said on the tape.
A moment later, the tornado strikes the house.
"Hang on house, hang on," Callahan said. Kunkel cries out.
The sounds of destruction from that moment of terror almost a month ago have faded a little, replaced by the call of birds at another house in Albert Lea. The family is moving into a rental house on a lake in the southern Minnesota city about 10 miles south of where the storm destroyed their farm home.
All told, about 200 homes in Freeborn County were damaged by three major tornadoes that day last month. Sixty-two houses were either destroyed or suffered major damage. The people displaced by the storms have spent the last few weeks cleaning up and searching for new places to live.
Kunkel said she's glad the family has a place of their own again.
"It's nice. It's not home, but it'll do," Kunkel said. "I'd rather be at the farm."
That sort of longing for what the tornado swept away is something storm victims will deal with for a long time. It can be longing for lost material items, like the old home, but it can also be distress over a lost set of emotions.
Before the tornado, Kunkel said she was never scared of storms. That's changed. She found that out when the sirens sounded again a week after the tornado as a fresh batch of storms moved through Albert Lea.
"I was crying, I was hysterical and I thought I was going to die," Kunkel said. "It scares me now."
Mental health officials are dealing with the fear and other emotions the storm generated. Rose Olmsted, head of the Freeborn County Crisis Response Team, said the destruction can affect even those who didn't suffer any direct tornado damage.
Olmsted said senior citizens are a special area of concern; for many, the tornado damage triggers fears about what would happen to them if severe weather damaged their homes. She said many seniors fear they wouldn't have the physical or financial strength to recover.
"It can just be incapacitating to think about and worry about all of that when these kind of events happen," Olmsted said.
DETERMINED TO REBUILD
The emotional burden of the storm is something each family affected deals with differently. Overall, Freeborn County officials say most people are moving ahead and planning to repair or rebuild their homes. They say lots of volunteer cleanup help has been a key factor in the progress.
Probably the fastest recovery is at a farm place just west of Albert Lea. Nearly all the storm rubble has been removed and workers have already put up the frame of a new house.
Employees of a concrete company are busy finishing a set of steps at the new house on the Gordon and Kathy Toenges farm. Gordon Toenges said the farm's century old house was destroyed by the June 17 storm. He said he and his wife decided to rebuild a few hours later, in a discussion at four o'clock in the morning.
"I said to my wife 'Do you want to move to town? And she said no'", recalls Toenges. "And that was it".
Later that morning the family began lining up the first contractors and the new house started to take shape. They hope to move in by late September. As an added safety measure, the new house will have a tornado room with concrete walls.
- All Things Considered, 07/13/2010, 5:24 p.m.