MERRILL, Wis. (AP) – The sounds of chain saws filled the air Monday in several central Wisconsin towns as people cleared downed trees and other debris from streets and damaged homes after thunderstorms and at least four tornados hit the area the day before.
“It hit me when we drove in this morning that all the stuff you work for was gone,” Jim Swendrzynski, 53, told the Wausau Daily Herald on Monday after he returned to the remains of his home in Merrill. “Then you realize that stuff doesn’t matter.”
Swendrzynski and many of his neighbors’ homes were leveled by the storm and they now face a long cleanup. The 100-foot pine trees on his seven acres of land were flattened or snapped in half on Monday.
The Lincoln County Emergency Management and county sheriff’s department announced Monday afternoon that a curfew will be in effect from 9 p.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Tuesday for the parts of Merrill hardest hit by the storms. Only authorized personnel would be allowed in overnight.
As of Monday evening, 1,700 customers were still without power in Merrill, according to Wisconsin Public Service. Merrill Area Public Schools were to reopen on Tuesday after being closed Monday, although busses would only pick up students on passable roads, according to the district’s website.
The National Weather Service said Monday it had confirmed tornados in northwest Winnebago County, the south side of Kaukauna, in Adams County near Arkdale and fourth about 5 miles southwest of Hancock. Weather service officials were investigating other reports of tornado touchdowns in the state.
In Adams County, a preliminary report estimated the damage to homes at more than $1.4 million, with seven homes destroyed and another 40 more suffering major damage. The damage to six businesses was estimated at $882,000.
In Merrill, houses were destroyed, roofs were torn from buildings, trees were downed and thousands of residents lost power, the Wausau Daily Herald reported.
“I’m shocked. It’s not our place anymore,” James Ialtoni told the Daily Herald after seeing his home on Monday after spending Sunday night in a motel. Part of the roof was gone and his basement was flooded. Pine trees covered the ground.
At least three people were injured. Merrill Fire Department Capt. Mike Drury said a 67-year-old man was trapped inside his basement during the storm Sunday night but he couldn’t talk about the details of his injuries. Two others were taken to hospitals, but Drury didn’t know the extent of their injuries. Emergency workers saw others with cuts and bruises, he said.
Among the hard hit areas in Merrill were the industrial park, where the Northern Wire factory building was badly damaged, and the airport. Airport manager John Miller said 20 hangars were damaged and several were destroyed. Three planes were destroyed when they were flipped over by the wind or were crushed inside a hangar, he said.
In Kaukauna, damage to at least 50 or 60 homes and other buildings could be in the millions of dollars, Police Chief John Manion told WHBY radio in Appleton. A garage at Bethany Lutheran Church blew off its foundation and slammed into the church, he said.
Wisconsin Public Service said about 6,000 people were without power at the height of the storm in central Wisconsin. It wasn’t clear when power in all the communities would be restored.
Damage was also reported in Trempealeau, Juneau, Calumet counties as well as southeastern Minnesota, where three barns were blown down and a mobile home was knocked off its foundation by high winds in Houston County.
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