Storm wreaks havoc in 1984
WORTHINGTON -- There was a prevalence of tragic news to report in the Feb. 6, 1984, edition of the Daily Globe.
The banner headline reads "Brutal storm kills 9 in region." An accompanying story is titled "Search under way for 10th person." A fire that destroyed two buildings on Worthington's 10th Avenue -- certainly the top story on any other day -- gets lesser billing, and the final story on the front page reads "Ivanhoe fire kills two; Slayton home burns."
The storm had struck two days previously, on Saturday evening, Feb. 4, 1984. It was blamed for taking 21 lives; nine in our immediate region -- that 10th victim found later. Six people died of exposure near Bingham Lake, two died at Butterfield, one at Hardwick.
The six victims found in a vehicle just west of Bingham Lake were discovered by a rescue-snowplow crew on Sunday.
They were Michael Janzen, 26, and his wife, Diane Janzen, of Minneapolis; their daughter Alicia, 8 months; Diane's two sons, Joshua Lemke, 6, and Jacob Lemke, 5; and Michael Janzen's grandmother, Louise Janzen, of Mountain Lake.
They were taken to the Windom Area Hospital and a call was issued for help from anyone trained in CPR or emergency care. About 50 people responded, but despite best efforts that continued for eight hours, none of the victims would be revived.
Raymond and Leola Anderson of Butterfield died after they got stuck near a railroad bridge about 2 miles north of Butterfield.
"They made the mistake of getting out of the car to try and reach shelter," the story details. "The next morning a trucker found Anderson lying 300 yards north of the car and his wife lying a hundred yards to the south."
A similar fate took the life of Argene Scholten, 28, of rural Hardwick. A Rock County Sheriff deputy found his body near his stalled vehicle just one-half mile west of Hardwick.
On the Monday following the storm, authorities were still searching for 66-year-old Albert Koep, who had gone into town to buy a pack of cigarettes, according to details that were later pieced together. His abandoned pickup truck was stuck in a drift just a quarter mile from his home on Feb. 5, its driver nowhere in the vicinity, having become disoriented in the storm. The search ended later in the day when Koep's body was found by a searcher on snowmobile, laying on top of a snow-covered fence line a mile and a half from his truck.
Former Daily Globe editor Ray Crippen notes that, in retrospect, this storm was probably one of the last of the big blizzards to strike so swiftly and without warning. Computers were not yet prevalent, and storm warnings weren't posted days in advance as they are today.
"None of us had ever seen a storm like that before, like a light being switched on or switched off," said Crippen, who recalled his mother, the late Tillie Crippen, walking across the street from their home to St. Matthew Lutheran Church to complete her altar guild duties on Saturday night. "She'd been gone about 45 minutes when I heard something, and I looked out and could hardly see out the window. That storm had come upon us."
With some difficulty, Crippen made his own way to the church, its entrance already blocked by drifting snow, and warned his mother and other people gathered there that they were in danger of being stranded.
And people did get stranded all over the region. The Daily Globe carried accounts of 19 people rescued from vehicles on Interstate 90; 70 people slept on the lobby and bathroom floors at the Minnesota welcome center on I-90 at the South Dakota border; 200 people took shelter in private homes in Edgerton following the Southwest Christian-Prinsburg basketball game; 100 people spent the night at the Valhalla Steakhouse at Lake Shetek; barber shoppers from Slayton and Sioux Falls, S.D., participating in a concert at Worthington's Memorial Auditorium, didn't realize the blizzard had hit until the concert was over and were found various locales to sleep, including the auditorium floor; the movie theater at the Northland Mall provided shelter to about 100 people, showing free movies until 4 a.m., selling soda and popcorn and offering free refills.
There were countless other stories of people opening their homes and businesses to people who were caught unaware and unprepared for the storm. At the Worthington Fire Hall, six firefighters hunkered down for the night that Saturday, double the usual number on call because of the weather conditions. Early on Feb. 5, 1984, an alarm summoned them to a fire at 725 and 721 10th Ave., across the street from Lamperts lumberyard.
The two buildings -- one which formerly housed the Bass Market (later called The Pantry) -- contained a total of 15 apartment units on two floors. Firefighters Don Linssen and William "Chip" Peters were the first two to enter the burning building.
"It was basically burning down around us, and the wind was blowing," Linssen recalled about the fire he rated as "one of the worst ever" in his years as a firefighter.
The occupants of the apartments had already all evacuated, but the firefighters had to check to make sure no one was left in the buildings.
"It's a miracle that someone didn't die in either of those apartments," Linssen reflected.
With the bitter cold -- noted to be 12 degrees below zero -- and wind raging at 50 to 70 miles per hour, the conditions were extremely dangerous for the firefighters, and no mutual aid could immediately be summoned because travel was too dangerous. Lyle and Myrtle Haglund, who lived two buildings down from the apartments, offered shelter and hot coffee to the Worthington fireman.
"The manager of the Lampert lumberyard came down and opened up the lumberyard, and we went in there," added Linssen about the people who aided their efforts during the storm. "Without that, we wouldn't have gotten through the night. ... There were people coming in with two or three inches of ice on their helmet. It was a pretty intense night."
It was estimated that 250,000 gallons of water were used to control the two blazing buildings. Consequently, ice became a factor in battling the blaze -- it soon encased everything, including the firefighters and all their equipment.
"There was so much water running. We had hoses on the ground, running from the trucks out front," Linssen explained. "They were literally under the ice. We had to go back the next day and chop them up. We had a fire truck that froze up."
Working in shifts, the firefighters remained on the scene until 8:30 a.m. Sunday. City crews had to use end loaders to remove ice from the streets in order to make them passable for motorists.
By Monday, Feb. 6, 1984, traffic was moving once again on Interstate 90, and stranded travelers were able to return to their points of origin, although tales about the "blizzard of '84" continued to be shared in the Daily Globe for several more days.