Tornado causes minor damage in Park Rapids
No injuries were reported when a tornado reportedly touched down Saturday night, Oct. 9 in the vicinity of the U.S. Hwy. 71 roundabout.
A tornado touched down Saturday night in Park Rapids, damaging a home, a church and a car dealership. No one was injured.
According to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D., an EF-1 tornado touched down at 10:35 p.m. and traveled 0.36 miles before dissipating.
Peak wind speed was estimated to be 100 mph, and the tornado reached a maximum width of 150 yards.
It’s “a little late in the season to get a tornado up around here,” said meteorologist technician Bill Barrett. “Even severe thunderstorms, we don’t get very many, but certainly tornadoes would be a little bit rare.”
Police Chief Jeff Appel said officers were dispatched to the area of the U.S. Hwy. 71 roundabout at 10:46 p.m. due to a downed powerline. Officers directed traffic away from the area until the issue was resolved. They also discovered weather damage on several buildings in the vicinity.
Also assisting at the scene, Appel said, were the Park Rapids Fire Department, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota Energy, Minnesota Power and Park Rapids public works personnel.
Amazed his home wasn’t razed
The touchdown apparently began at approximately 10:30 p.m. outside Dick Carpenter’s house at 1603 Park Ave. S., on the southwest corner of the roundabout.
Carpenter, a former teacher, coach and crop adjuster, has lived there 54 years. In the gloomy Sunday afternoon daylight, the damage around his home was apparent – including downed limbs, shrubbery stripped of foliage, two large trees uprooted and one snapped off halfway up its trunk, and a television aerial knocked down from close beside the house.
Several windows on the west side of his house were broken, and debris strikes left deep dents in the siding. Leaves and debris remained plastered to the siding, and a garage door was pushed out of shape by air pressure.
“I think it did some damage on the roof,” Carpenter added, and later confirmed. “It was a powerful wind.”
He said he was watching a football game on TV on Saturday night and had just switched over to a weather channel to follow the progress of a thunderstorm warning in the area.
“When it happened, it was like somebody dumped a bucket of water out of the sky,” said Carpenter. “I thought, wow! Never seen it rain like that! Then I heard a pop! pop! pop! and I thought, 'I wonder if that’s hailing on my roof?' But it wasn’t. It was the trees.”
One of the uprooted trunks lay down toward the north, across the driveway on the Hwy. 71 side of the house. Another fell toward the east, ending short of the roadway. The downed radio antenna angled toward the southeast, directly away from the corner of the house where it stood.
Jim Phillippi, facilities manager at Faithbridge Church on the opposite side of Industrial Park Road, said he found tree debris from Carpenter’s property in his own yard, three blocks north.
The storm also took out the power, so Carpenter found himself in the dark, moving around by the light on his cell phone.
“All I hope is that I get a fair adjuster,” he said. “I’m lucky I wasn’t killed. That TV tower was right in the corner; took it down. Tornadoes do weird things. Should have taken my house down.”
Damage to church
According Jason Jalbert, owner of Park Rapids Ford, the tornado bent the highway roundabout signs in different directions as it crossed Industrial Park Road. There were also a few trees down on the northeast corner of the roundabout.
Next hit was the Faithbridge Church campus, where the storm tore the roof off the church’s family life center, or gymnasium wing. Heavy rains then caused ceilings inside the wing to collapse and flooded the kitchen, youth room and youth director’s office, while storm winds broke several windows and doors and left flooding and debris in the gym and hallways.
By Sunday afternoon, pieces of the roof hung off the building and lay in various-sized heaps nearby.
“As far as we know, there’s no structural damage, as far as the walls,” church member Frank Schaap said of the main church building. “But we have to have that all looked at to make sure, for insurance purposes.”
However, a dumpster that was usually parked some distance away was apparently dragged down the church driveway and became embedded in the side of one of the church buildings.
Rev. Jeff Lange, pastor at Faithbridge, said church staff was aware that a storm went through last night, but they didn’t think anything of it until Phillippi received a call from the Park Rapids Police Department advising them to check out the church and saying there was debris everywhere. Upon investigating, they found extensive damage.
“The roof sheeting off our gymnasium was pretty much stripped off completely,” Lange said. “We’ve got part of our congregation here cleaning up and assessing damage, and we filed a claim with the insurance company.”
He said there may be water damage in other parts of the building that won’t be apparent until the insurance adjuster checks it out. Also, some of the roof sheeting ended up twisted around a powerline west of the church, uprooting a power pole.
“Minnesota Power came out last night around 2 a.m. and started mitigating this,” said Lange.
Phillippi said a vehicle in the church parking lot was damaged, and there was a gas leak inside the building. “One of the gas lines got cut,” he explained. “So, it was kind of scary at first.”
“We’re just grateful to our first responders,” said Lange.
During a tour of the damaged building, Phillippi said power would probably be out for a couple days. Meanwhile, church members were already cleaning up flood water and debris.
“Every window on the south side was busted,” he said, during a pause to take in the odor of wet carpet and ceiling tile in the youth room.
Car showroom roof opened
Jalbert said he was getting ready for bed when his phone picked up a weather alert about a potential tornado in the Hwy. 71 South corridor. Then the police department called and advised him to check his dealership.
“In the night and the rain, I could see some of the roof was missing,” he said, adding that they went through the building to make sure important documents were dry and in a safe place.
By daylight, Jalbert confirmed that part of the showroom roof was gone and there was shingle damage to other buildings on the lot.
“A little water intrusion on the inside,” he said. Amazingly, however, there didn’t seem to be any vehicle damage.
While a team of electricians worked on the building, Jalbert said he expected to be without power for a good portion of Monday.
“When we came last night, it had taken the powerline off the building, and it was laying on the ground. So, Minnesota Power came and cut the wire. We’re just trying to get going as quick as we can, because we open up at 8 a.m. tomorrow.
“We’ll get it all taken care of, deal with what we need to deal with – insurance – and build back even better,” said Jalbert.
This won’t stop them
“The church isn’t a building,” Lange said, back at Faithbridge. “A church is a people. This isn’t gonna stop us from our mission and loving our community.”
“We’ve got some work to do,” Schaap acknowledged. But he voiced amazement that the tornado apparently came down and went back up without damaging more of the surrounding properties.
“We’re grateful that it actually hit us, and it didn’t seem to do any damage to any residences,” Lange agreed, gesturing toward a nearby row of apartment buildings where many residents may have been in bed when the storm struck. “We see God’s provision and protection over the rest of the community for that.”
Lange shared a text that a member of the congregation sent him Sunday morning: “Satan has thumped our meeting place, but not at all our hearts or the spirit within us. Roofs and floors and walls are easy to fix. We can stand securely, untouched by spiritual winds. I’m glad it was allowed to happen at 10:30 at night and not 10:30 this morning.”