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Echo Press photo The front page of the July 23, 1970 issue of the Lake Region Press showed the damage caused by the devastating tornado that ravaged Miltona on July 18, 1970.

40 years later: Miltona's tornado comeback continues

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As Wadena, a small, rural community tries to rebuild after a June 17 tornado ripped apart the town, Miltona, an even smaller rural community, is celebrating.

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This Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of when a tornado ravaged Miltona; a town with a population of nearly 400 located about 14 miles north of Alexandria.

The community of Miltona will be celebrating with its annual "Tornado Days" this weekend. (See related story in today's Entertainment section.)

When the July 18 tornado struck back in 1970, the path of destruction was a block and a half wide and three miles long. The five-minute tumultuous twister either partially or completed destroyed 11 homes, 15 businesses and several farms.

But just as fast as the tornado tore the town apart, its people put it back together.

In a Star Tribune article published shortly after the tornado hit Miltona, Jim Shoop, a Tribune staff writer who was fishing on Lake Carlos when the tornado touched down, wrote a first-person account of the storm, its devastating after effects and how the community rallied.

He said he was impressed with how quickly and efficiently Miltona residents tackled the job of coping with the disaster.

"Within minutes after the tornado struck, an operations headquarters was set up in the Miltona Liquor Store," he wrote. He added that local volunteer firemen quickly searched all homes.

At that time, "only four people were injured and miraculously, there were no deaths," reported Shoop.

The effort, according to Shoop, seemed typical of the rugged rural nature in the face of hardship, as though a neighbor's crop had failed or a barn needed painting.

"Everyone was eager to help, to get on with the job, even minutes after it happened," he said.

In his story, Shoop said that tornadoes are bad enough in cases of metropolitan areas with a strong economic base, but they can spell the end of towns like tiny Miltona.

Back then, Mayor Ernie Salvog, who was also the manager of the local creamery, was confident his town would recover.

And, he was right.

In a July 15, 2005 Echo Press article, Kevin Lee, who was a high schooler when the tornado hit and is now the city clerk, said that nothing really stopped after the tornado hit.

"It just kept going," he said. "It was kind of like an instant urban renewal."

The lumberyard was rebuilt, as well as the downtown café, and many of the homes that were damaged or destroyed were also repaired or rebuilt.

Today, Miltona is a thriving community.

According to the city's website, www.miltona.org, residents and visitors to the area will find a bait and tackle shop, a local baseball team, civic organizations, boat rentals, camping, churches, gift and retail shops, a grocery store, a golf club, a Chamber of Commerce, a funeral home, gas stations, meat market, school, restaurant, liquor store and a whole lot more.

As the town celebrates the 40th anniversary of the tornado, Lee pointed out Miltona's Tornado Days are not about celebrating the tornado, but instead, it's about celebrating the fact that the town still exists and is doing quite well.

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