After the EF4

WADENA - "We are bruised, Lord, but we are not broken." The Rev. Rob Nelson said those words as he looked out over a crowd of sunburned, exhausted Wadena residents just a few dozen hours after an EF4 tornado razed large sections of Wadena June 17...

WADENA - "We are bruised, Lord, but we are not broken."

The Rev. Rob Nelson said those words as he looked out over a crowd of sunburned, exhausted Wadena residents just a few dozen hours after an EF4 tornado razed large sections of Wadena June 17.

A minute later, Mayor Wayne Wolden stepped to the podium and started running an efficient community meeting that included representatives of law enforcement, public works, the hospital, electrical utilities, education and just about every other institution in this town. Announcements like a single street reopening or power being restored to a small block elicited tired but enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

Wadena, at this moment, was done being the town that was hit by the tornado. It was in full rebuild mode.

A swath of destruction


No one would call the effort to rebuild Wadena easy. The EF4 tornado packing winds of more than 170 miles per hour cut a swath through the city 1.1 miles wide and 10 miles long, according to Gregory Gust, warning coordination meterologist for the National Weather Service.

"This was also a multi-vortex tornado complex consisting of multiple tornadic tubes pivoting around a common center, each tube acting singularly or in concert to produce areas of EF1 to EF4 damage," Gust wrote in an e-mail to Wadena County Emergency Management Director Scott McKellep.

Gust said another tornado system which touched down from Almora to Bluffton was also an EF4 with 175 mile per hour winds.

EF stands for the Enhanced Fujita scale, the new system for rating tornadoes that replaced the old F system.

A woman in Almora was killed in the storm, and the property damage was severe: the Wadena Area Community Center, Wadena-Deer Creek High School, Leaf River Ag, the Wadena County Fairgrounds, the WDC bus garage, several other businesses and the community swimming pool were total losses.

According to Red Cross estimates, 268 buildings were touched by the storm: 26 were destroyed, 60 had major damage, 91 had minor damage, and 91 more were classified as "affected."

No one killed

Thirty-four people were injured in the storm, according to Tri-County Hospital, but no one was killed.


McKellep said the sirens sounded about a half-hour before the tornado actually touched down when it became apparent on radar that tornadic activity was forming. They sounded again when a deputy posted on the west side of Wadena spotted a funnel cloud. The sirens sent residents scrambling to their basements and shelters, and they all used the same phrase to describe the monstrous storm they heard. They said it sounded like a freight train.

The recovery phase

Not a half hour after the storm moved through, chainsaws could be heard all through Wadena.

Even as the tornado was tearing through the town, McKellep, Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr and Wadena Police Chief Bruce Uselman were setting up an emergency operations center in the basement of the courthouse. It was from that nerve center that the official relief effort got underway. Fire departments, emergency responders and police officers from dozens of communities showed up within minutes to help.

Wolden started informing the public about what had happened and had mobilized a team to deal with the aftermath.

And while everyone was working feverishly, officials soon began to warn people to pace themselves; that cleanup was a marathon, not a sprint.

"Cleanup is going to be an ongoing process for a long time," said Ron Bucholz, Wadena's public works director.

The restricted zone


The hardest hit areas of Wadena were in the southwest and northwest parts of town. The northwest quadrant had its streets open quickly, but the barricades stayed up in the southwest, and police restricted access to the area.

There were reports of looting, unscrupulous contractors and people running past barricades without passes. But an overwhelming police force kept law and order in the "restricted zone."

Hauling away debris

Crews worked to clear streets in southwest Wadena of downed power lines, toppled trees and gas leaks. Once the area was again deemed safe, trucks began hauling tree waste at a feverish pace. Heavy traffic on Friday, June 18 and over that weekend slowed the progress, but 817 loads of trees were moved anyway in those three days. On Monday, with lighter traffic, 460 loads were hauled.

Residents were also able to start hauling their own storm debris to the old airport site next to Sunnybrook Park.

That site remains open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Items must be sorted into tree waste, masonry debris, scrap metal, glass, and other debris such as walls, ceiling tiles and textiles.

On Thursday morning, the Wadena City Council met in special session to decide how to proceed with city crews picking up tornado waste. The following was decided:

- All residents who are insured for hauling away storm debris are urged to do so through their policy by hiring a contractor to take the waste away. This applies to everyone: people in the hardest hit areas and those areas only mildly affected.


- For residents who live in the "concentrated damage area," meaning the most storm-affected area, crews will not be hauling debris but will be working to keep the streets clear. In some cases, residents have thrown their waste into the street, and to keep roads clear, city crews will assist landowners in getting the waste back onto their private property for now.

- For residents who aren't in the "concentrated damage area," crews will pick up "storm-related debris" from curbsides, but this shouldn't include any demolition debris or garbage.

"We encourage everyone to use their insurance to get it done privately, because this costs the city money and we don't know that we've got it," said Wadena City Attorney Jeff Pederson.

The transfer station is also taking items such as electronics and appliances. For information on what they'll take, call (218) 631-2474.

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