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Wadena Tornado Survivors Tell Tales In New Book

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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WADENA, Minn. (WCCO) — Mariah Wood has a distinct memory of that sultry afternoon in June 2010. The 16-year-old was working her shift as a lifeguard at Wadena’s city pool when severe weather hit the town.

“It was humid, and the sky was a weird neon green,” Wood said as she thought back on the day.

But as skies darkened, the winds suddenly grew. To her and the three others working that afternoon, their lifesaving efforts suddenly took on new meaning.

“We were all just sitting crammed in here and I remember looking at that light, flickering on and off,” she said.

What they were doing was seeking shelter in the nearby pool house in response to tornado sirens. But the flickering lights and weird sky sent an ominous vibe throughout the wood structure.

With two little girls in her care, Wood and her co-workers ditched the pool’s storm shelter and ran across the street to her parent’s basement. It was a gut decision that almost certainly ended up saving their lives.

Now, nearly a year after the devastating tornado that ripped through the center of Wadena, Wood is carefully putting her thoughts down on paper.

“At 5:05 we hit the floor. I remember us all linking arms with our ears popping and confused at the sounds we were hearing outside,” said the soon-to-be high school senior as she read from a sheet of paper.

What the kids were hearing was an EF-4 tornado. When it struck it left an entire town in shock and ruins.

Wood has little doubt that had she and her fellow lifeguards and the two children decided to seek the designated brick shelter nearby, they never would have made it. The block walls were torn apart by the powerful storm.

“It was like a pile of legos crumbled everywhere, all blocks and all cement,” Wood said.

Her story is just one of the many short stories revealed in a new book, titled “Twisted Together By An EF-4.”  The book is a compilation of short stories written by Wadena tornado survivors.

Sandi Pratt said she still remembers the day well.

“Barely made it home, yup!” she said.

As director of the Wadena Historical Society, Pratt pushed the book idea as a way of preserving the town’s history. The book project blends together a chorus of voices, recording memories to paint and accurate picture of that historic day.

“I almost cry reading the stories. It’s just so traumatic and they’re so life-like when they tell them,” Pratt said.

Steve Schulz is editor of Wadena’s newspaper, the Pioneer Journal, and oversaw the project. On Saturdays the group of 19 authors would pour over photographs and pound out their prose.

“At first it seemed like a scary idea to us because you have so many people with so many ideas trying to put a book together in a compressed time period. As it turned out that was the way to go,” Schulz said.

In just a few short months the book came together.

“The roof was actually blown off and it was in the pool,” Wood said as she walked past the now devastated city pool.

Over time, the physical images of shattered structures and shredded trees will fade away. The town is beginning to rebuild the hundreds of homes and buildings the tornado ripped apart.

Yet, like the monthly storm siren test, personal images of the tornado continue to ring loud and clear.

“When they read the stories I think they’ll understand the trauma that a lot of people went through,” Pratt said.

 They are harrowing tales of a fateful day that are now preserved in print.

“Marking the one-year anniversary was kind of a turning point. It’s hopefully a period at the end of the sentence and we can start thinking about Wadena’s rebuilding,” Schulz said.

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