MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When you see what a powerful tornado did to a western Wisconsin couple’s home, it’s hard to believe anyone survived.
But somehow, 94-year-old Norman Johnson and his 95-year-old wife, Helen, did.
“I had a feeling that they weren’t OK. I just, uh, somebody had to get up there,” said neighbor Joshua Fox.
He had just arrived home on Tuesday night. It was dark and storming, and he noticed his neighbors’ house was damaged and the driveway was blocked.
“Nobody else had equipment handy and we’re just right across the street,” Fox said.
After sawing his way up the driveway, he realized his neighbors Norm and Helen were there — but their house was practically gone.
“It was intense. I called for Norm a couple times and he answered me, and I was like, ‘Oh, where is he?’ And I kept calling for him,” Fox said.
The tornado tossed Norm out of a second floor window. Fox found the 94-year-old on the side of house.
“We got him kind of up out of the balled-up position he was in, and he was pretty well beat up,” Fox said.
Helen appeared to be OK. First responders showed up soon after.
“She was just standing up in the living room under this little shelf that used to be a closet, trying to stay out of the rain, and she was actually in pretty good shape,” Fox said.
There is not much left of the home that Norm built himself.
“It was eerie because the recliner he was sitting in was sitting right next to where there used to be a wall, and her recliner chair was right next to him,” Fox said.
Fox’s house just sustained minor damage.
“I don’t know, I guess we were just lucky because there’s some houses that are completely gone,” Fox said.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources was going door to door Friday to see if people needed help cleaning up. A quick drive around the Elk Mound area shows just how many homes do need the help from neighbors like Joshua Fox.
“It’s the thing you do,” Fox said.
Wheaton fire officials say they’re expecting about 400 volunteers to show up at the station Saturday morning to help clear debris. Anyone who needs immediate assistance can call 211.
The Nelsons’ family says Norm has some broken bones, but he’s in good spirits — and even making jokes.
Click here to see the Wheaton Fire Department’s cleanup plan for this weekend. Here also is a statement from the department:
The tornado on Tuesday night has taken a huge toll on our township. The residents directly affected have worked tremendously hard, alongside many hundreds of volunteers, and there is a long way to go. This is truly a marathon, not a sprint.
Chippewa County emergency management has been on site since early Wednesday morning. They brought the state emergency management group and the Wisconsin DNR forestry group, who have expertise in disaster recovery organization, with them. The Wheaton Fire Department, along with the Town Board members have been on scene and incident command since the tornado struck. Wednesday morning brought lots of much needed volunteer help. We are very thankful to everyone who continues to come out and help.
Each incident has its own unique challenges and opportunities. For this one, there are several things that are big challenges. These include Hwy. 29 through the middle, only one way into the subdivision, working along a highly traveled town road to several residents with significant damage, the loos of storage units, downed high-tension power lines, and large trees now bending precariously over the roadways.
With all this, we have to move carefully to assure first, a safe recover for everyone, and second a timely recovery. We have succeeded in the first phase of getting roads open, emergency services reestablished to all residents, and utilities back operational.
Today is a day the emergency management team is taking for reassessment of all the needs of the people affected, and
implementation of a plan tailored to those needs. Saturday will bring its own challenges in the logistics of moving all the wonderful volunteers to the specific areas described today in the reassessments. Let the team know what you need and any of your concerns so the plan can be developed.
We will continue to help! And we thank everyone who has graciously donated items, food, equipment, and time to help out! A lot of volunteers will be needed this weekend. So show up at the Wheaton Fire Station at 9 for assignment.