Mahnomen family left homeless by tornado
By Pippi Mayfield / Dl-Online
MAHNOMEN — Theresa Thielen and her rural Mahnomen house have been through so much that she said she’s not sure whether she’s in shock or just deals with whatever comes her way. This time, it was a tornado that came her way.
"We didn’t have any warning," she said Thursday afternoon, standing in her house, which now has a tarp where there was once a roof. Insulation is piled on the floors, fallen from a ceiling that no longer exists.
At 12:30 a.m. Monday, Thielen said, she went to her windows and "it looked like a light mist touching the windows, not raining though."
She went to bed and woke up at 2 a.m. with the wind blowing so hard that when she went to crank her window shut, it broke. Something hit her in the back, and she thought it was the window breaking. Instead, it was a chunk of the sheetrock from her ceiling falling on her as the roof was torn off her house.
Thielen’s daughter, Laura Gulseth, and Gulseth’s two sons, Darrell and Adam, were also living in the house. Thielen said a chunk of ceiling hit her daughter in the head as well.
"Laura yelled to get to the basement, but we didn’t even make it to the basement because it was already over," she said.
The National Weather Service rated the tornado as an EF2, with peak winds of around 115 mph.
According to the weather service, the width of the tornado’s path varied from 20 yards to 150 yards, and the tornado lasted from about 1:50 a.m. until about 2:30 a.m.
Besides taking the roof off her house, Thielen’s brand-new garage is missing. The tornado lifted it off the foundation, and it was strewn about the yard and her neighbor’s yard.
Thielen had no insurance on her house. She said they had just completed the garage, put new siding on the house, replaced the windows and were waiting until they finished the project this fall to get insurance on the homestead.
She has lived in the house since 1962, when she married her husband. It had been in his family for years before that. He died in 2003.
Thielen said the house, and previous ones in its spot, have been destroyed due to fire and strong winds. The house has been broken into and guns stolen.
She said right after the latest catastrophe to hit her home, she experienced an outpouring of support and generosity from her neighbors and the Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office.
"They cleaned up everything," she said of her neighbors. "And I was impressed with the Mahnomen County deputies. They pitched right in, moving furniture out."
The majority of their furniture was salvageable, it’s just the house in question at this point. Thielen said she’s not sure whether she’ll just rebuild a roof and garage, or she’ll have to tear down the house and start from scratch.
She said someone who measured her walls and said they are crooked, but they look fine to her, so she’ll need to get another opinion.
Until then, she and her family, neighbors and friends are helping pick up the pieces, literally, of what used to be her house. Her son, Dennis, drove from Joplin, Mo., to help her clean up. He understands what it’s all about, having lost everything in the tornado that ripped through Joplin in 2011.
In the meantime, Thielen is staying with a friend not far from her house, but Gulseth and her sons have been looking for housing. They were able to stay at the Shooting Star Casino for three nights for free, but those nights are over.
"It’s unreal the help and consideration of neighbors," Thielen said.
Besides Thielen’s house, the tornado damaged two other properties in the area. According to the weather service, about 10 miles southeast of Mahnomen — just down the road a few miles from Thielen — a pole barn was destroyed and farm equipment was strewn about.
The third location was at Roy Lake, where the tornado’s path was the widest and trees and buildings were damaged by winds around 100 mph, the weather service said.
No injuries were reported.
A fund has been set up to help Thielen rebuild her home since she had no insurance. Donations can be made at First National Bank of Mahnomen or by calling the bank at (218) 935-5251.