Wadena area reels after tornado kills 1, injures 20
WADENA, Minn. - Residents of Wadena and the surrounding communities are cleaning up after a number of tornadoes touched down Thursday afternoon.
"It's pretty much devastation at its finest," said Sgt. Tim Crawford of the Wadena Police Department.
One person is confirmed dead in Almora, Minn., located about 20 miles southwest of Wadena, and at least 20 others were injured in Wadena.
The storm moved through northern Otter Tail County around 4:30 p.m., leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
Glass and debris littered the floor of Ashley Moen's windowless Jeep Thursday evening as she and her grandfather tried to get the vehicle started again after she was caught in a tornado just north of Deer Creek on Minnesota Highway 29.
"It got really windy, and then I saw stuff start flying," she said.
The 17-year-old Wadena High School senior tried to get out of the driver-side door of her vehicle, but the wind was too strong. When she pried open the door on the passenger side, she struck her head, and winds ripped her from the vehicle.
Moen was taken to the Wadena hospital and later released, but she was still shaken Thursday evening.
As the storm moved northeast into the city of Wadena, sirens were sounding before the tornadoes struck around 5 p.m.
The city was gearing up for a busy week with an all-school reunion. An estimated 2,000 were expected to attend.
Mark Gibson of Nevis was at the high school registering for the reunion when the storm hit.
There was a hollow sound, and then "all hell broke loose," he said.
A large piece of what was reported to be the Wadena Area Community Center was twisted over the school Thursday night.
The southwest area of town was the hardest hit, but parts of the northwest were also heavily damaged, Mayor Wayne Wolden said.
The storm had earlier struck Deer Creek, where Fire Chief Dan Hendershot was at home waiting for the emergency calls to start.
"We knew it was coming," Hendershot said.
Several homes and farms in rural Deer Creek were leveled to nothing but "black dirt," Hendershot said.
"When you go out and see the devastation, it's so overwhelming," he said.
Wadena and several of the surrounding communities were still without power Thursday night, and Lake Region Electric officials had told Hendershot that it could be a week before electricity was restored in some areas.
More than 100 people were displaced, and the Red Cross is assisting in finding them shelter.
At least 15 law enforcement agencies and 10 fire departments are assisting in the area.
For now, officials are asking that volunteers stay out of the area.