Tornadoes Rip Through Minnesota, Killing 3

Cindy Wood (far right) didn't have much privacy June 17, 2010 as she talked on the telephone with her half-exposed house reflecting the tornadic damage that hit her southwest Wadena, Minn., neighborhood.
AP Photo
Updated 10:48 a.m. ET

Police and National Guard soldiers are blocking entry to tornado-damaged neighborhoods in Wadena as the northwestern Minnesota town prepares to start cleaning up after the devastating storms.

At least three people were killed and dozens injured as tornadoes hit much of Minnesota late Thursday.

In the northwest part of the state, an elderly woman was killed in Almora and a gas station owner was killed in Mentor. In southern Minnesota, one person was killed at a farm west of Albert Lea.

Officials in Wadena are meeting to plan the town's next step. The storms destroyed or damaged dozens of homes, toppled power lines and left a big chunk of the town treeless.

So far officials in the towns worst hit are asking the clean-up volunteers to stay away for now, as some areas are just too dangerous for people, reports CBS Station WCCO in Minneapolis.

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden, said the town can not handle volunteers at this time. There are just not enough people to coordinate that effort right now, but at one point they will need volunteers and will be grateful for the help.

When the storm came through, Jay Hotakainen huddled in the basement of his northwest Minnesota home with his 12-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. The walls shook and everything in the house rattled.

"They say it sounds like a freight train. It does," Hotakainen said.

The series of tornadoes tore through the state Thursday, flattening homes, toppling power lines and leaving a big chunk of Wadena treeless.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty planned to tour storm-damaged areas later Friday.

In nearby Almora, a northwest Minnesota town of about 20 people, an elderly woman was killed when a twister wiped out her home, said Otter Tail County Emergency spokesman David Hauser. Brittney Schulke of Almora told The Daily Journal that her grandmother, Margie Schulke, was killed and that her grandfather, Norman Schulke, suffered two broken shoulders.

Debris including shingles and pieces of buildings littered the town. Several large trees were uprooted.

Farther north, in Mentor, a man was killed when a tornado destroyed a Cenex gas station, the Polk County sheriff's office said. Three other people were hurt.

Scott Kern was at the Wadena Walmart store when the storm came through there. He returned to his mobile home to find it demolished and his all-terrain vehicle up in a tree. His dog, Buttercup, was missing.

"Thanks to the man upstairs I wasn't there," he said, fighting back tears. "This is a real tear-jerker for everybody."

Wolden said sirens gave plenty of warning in his town of about 4,300, where the National Weather Service said a tornado struck around 5 p.m. Wolden said many people were there for an all-school reunion. Both Wadena and Almora are about 70 miles southeast of Fargo, N.D.

Twenty people were treated for injuries at the Wadena hospital, mostly for bumps and bruises, nursing supervisor Kathy Kleen said.

Crews worked overnight to control dozens of gas leaks. Wadena's community pool was destroyed, the high school "extremely busted up" and the community center beyond repair, Wolden said.

His wife, Lori Wolden, said houses were "half-gone" and "there's no trees" in the southwest part of the town, which was barricaded after the storm.

Heather Brown of CBS station WCCO-TV in Minneapolis filed this report for "The Early Show":

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Patty Jones was evacuated from her apartment because of a gas leak and walked around Wadena before taking shelter at the local armory.

"It's terrible. It's whacked out. Nothing's left in one part of town," Jones said.

In Almora, Mabel Wangerin said she heard her bedroom windows rattle as the storm came through, then watched her quilt fly off the bed and out the window.

"I was over by the window and prayed and prayed," Wangerin said.

The violent weather wasn't confined to the northwest part of the state. The National Weather Service said twisters also were spotted in central and southern Minnesota.

Albert Lea, near the Iowa border, was particularly hard-hit. KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa, reported that pigs from a 2,500-head farm were roaming around the area and a few carcasses were strewn about after a tornado struck. The TV station said the pigs were taken away in trucks, with neighbors helping round them up.

So many power lines were down that the Minnesota Department of Transportation said it had closed a section of Highway 251 through Freeborn County until at least midmorning Friday.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the state's emergency management director, Kris Eide, planned to visit the Wadena and Albert Lea areas Friday to meet with local officials and survey the damage.