Tornado leaves wide path of destruction on south shore of Pickerel Lake
The first 911 call came in shortly after 9:30 a.m. on a dark Friday - tornado on the ground.
Hubbard County investigator Jerry Tatro hopped into his squad car and set out for Menagha, storm chasing.
"We went out checking the sky in that area to see where the heaviest formation of clouds were and started following that," he said. "Southeast of Park Rapids we ran into the first tornado." They quickly did an about-face, chasing the funnel cloud through town, then heading north.
"From that point we followed the tornado north on County Road 4," Tatro said. "Four miles north it split into two tornados and the one did the damage here and the other dissipated."
'Here' was Pickerel Lake's southwest point.
When emergency personnel were able to chain saw their way in three hours later, what they saw was gut-wrenching.
At least three homes were totally demolished. One was lifted off its foundation and rudely dumped into the woods, scattering its contents and owner's treasures along the hilly vista. Across the lake a fourth house appeared to be heavily damaged, with the roof missing.
There were no injuries at Pickerel Lake, and the only resident home at the time was Susan Vessey, a 40-year resident who is counting her blessings. Trees dropped all around her cabin, but left her unscathed. "This must be a sign," she said, surveying her damage.
She called her kids to thank them for the weather radio system they insisted on purchasing her for a gift.
She knew the tornado was coming.
"I feel very lucky," she said, graciously escorting the media through her messy yard. "My kids are coming up tonight to help clean up the mess. They won't believe this."
Three hours after the devastation, the sound of chain saws permeated the Pickerel Lake beach.
The area took on a circus-like atmosphere. Hub-bard County deputy Troy Christenson said at least 200 vehicles converged on Emmaville to get a look at damage. Law enforcement officials were keeping people away - with good reason. It was a mess and a slippery safety hazard with hundreds of downed trees making the terrain treacherous.
The Emmaville Store nearby did a brisk business. Proprietors played host to the dozens of reporters, camera crews and emergency personnel who landed on their doorstep. They passed out gallons of free coffee, gave interviews and seemed to enjoy the spotlight.
Law enforcement personnel were still shaking their heads hours later, repeatedly telling the media that "tornados just don't touch down here."
Christenson got called in shortly after a tornado skittered through his neighborhood south of US High-way 34. He lost 37 trees and plans to leave his shift and pick up his own chain saw - "when the insurance company gives me the okay," he said. He will then patch the hole on his roof