MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Residents in western Wisconsin are cleaning up after severe storms and a probable tornado ripped through the area Tuesday night, turning several homes into piles of rubble.
So far, there have been no reports of deaths of major injuries.
The National Weather Service says the tornado that touched down just before 8 p.m. in Elk Mound, Wisconsin was an EF3 on the Fujita scale, which means wind speeds were as fast as 165 miles per hour. Elk Mound is about 12 miles west of Eau Claire and 75 miles east of the Twin Cities.
This used to be a home near Elk Mound, WI. It was leveled by a probable tornado last night. pic.twitter.com/bPHD2kI3ew
— KatieSteiner (@KatieSteinertv) September 25, 2019
Spotters reported a tornado in the area around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. A video posted on social media appears to show a tornado’s silhouette backlit by frequent lightning strikes.
The sunrise Wednesday revealed that several homes and trailers had been destroyed in the storm. The debris from the rubble sat atop vehicles and downed trees blocked traffic on area roads.
Elk Mound resident Deanna Pichler said she and her family crouched in the hallway of their mobile home as the storm shook their trailer.
“I was afraid to move, afraid to get up,” she said.
When her family emerged after the winds calmed down, they found that homes nearby had been completely flattened.
“I feel like we are super lucky,” she said. “We could have lost everything.”
Gerry Oestreich was sleeping when the winds picked up. By the time he woke up to see what was going on, all he could do was take cover.
“I just got the house paid for. It’s all mine and I had it for a year. Now look. I ain’t got nothing,” Oestreich said.
Gerry was one of more than a dozen homeowners displaced by the damage at Pine Meadows Mobile Home Park. Tina Elias says she feels lucky knowing homes can be replaced, while lives can’t be.
“I’m just glad my son and grandchildren who live with me were out of state when this happened. So they weren’t home either,” Elias said.
Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk says deputies and emergency crews spent the overnight hours going door to door searching for people in need of help.
“For the devastation you see here, virtually no serious injuries,” he said.
Mark Kohls’ home was just out of the path of the tornado. By Wednesday afternoon, he and a fellow volunteer had picked up six truckloads worth of debris along fields, roadways and ditches.
“I felt very lucky so I thought, I’m going to get out here and help out,” Kohls said.
Speaking of volunteers, the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office say they were overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up. About 140 people turned out. They’re asking for more volunteers to return Thursday morning.
The National Weather Service also says there was an EF0 tornado Tuesday night in Lake City, Minnesota, which is about 60 miles southwest of Elk Mound. City officials say the marina was hit hard, as were businesses on North Lakeshore Drive and homes in the center of the town. No one was hurt.