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'It was just like a freight train'

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

LEOTA --"It was just like a 100-car freight train going by," Frank Gunnink, a resident of Leota, said after a tornado struck the town about 5 p.m. Tuesday. "Black as the ace of spades, pitch dark."

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Gunnink, who owns a hardware store in Leota, said those residing inside the city limits fared much better than the rural areas right around town.

"It missed the village of Leota," he said. "Just missed it by the skin of our teeth."

Pipestone's Art and Colleen Hofelman headed for Chandler following the storm in order to retrieve grain they had in the elevator there. Unfortunately, the grain was ruined, and the Hofelmans spent the next 2½ hours surveying further damage from the storm.

"All you can do is try to find a place to get through," said Colleen Hofelman. "There are power lines and telephone lines down everywhere. Poles were jerked 60 to 100 feet into the fields. Heavy poles with transformers are lying across the road in several places.

In addition to the heavy storm damage inflicted throughout the storm path, at least 29 injuries were reported by midnight. About 25 people were reported injured in Chandler and four people were injured on a farm near Leota.

According to the Rock County Sheriff's Department, the Luverne ambulance was shuttling back and forth to Pipestone County Medical Center, Pipestone, where the storm's casualties were being taken. The stable patients were being brought to Luverne, and the Pipestone facility was either keeping the more seriously injured or sending others on to Sioux Falls, S.D., for treatment.

Ambulances were called in from throughout neighboring counties. Worthington firefighters also were dispatched to the tornado scenes. The Hofelmans said they met five ambulances on the way to Chandler and saw many more during the course of their journey. The ambulances were stopping at all farms to make sure there were no injuries.

Worthington Director of Public Safety Don Linssen said the Nobles County Law Enforcement Center was kept busy throughout Tuesday evening, first handling the situation in Leota and then sending aid to Murray County. Rescue and fire department personnel were sent to assist in the aftermath.

Reports of tornado sightings continued to be called in throughout the later evening --hours after the initial wave of tornadoes.

The later tornadoes also took their toll. Farm buildings were reportedly destroyed on the Jim Schnieder farm south of Westbrook in Cottonwood County about 11 p.m., and the storm system was moving toward the Storden and Jeffers areas. Another tornado was reported near Hull, Iowa.

Linssen said there also were additional tornado sightings in Nobles County.

"Now we have reports of one by Adrian, one on the ground by Dundee and just outside of Leota again," he said shortly before 10 p.m. "I think we could be in for a long, hard night."

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