Column: Understanding a tornado's devastation
Listening to the devastation the small towns of Kiester and Wadena suffered brought back memories of a tornado that hit our farm over 65 years ago.
It's a slow, rumbling sound with loud cracks as trees are twisted or snapped and buildings are destroyed or moved. A dark sky appears and is followed by a green sky. It gets almost an eerie quiet. Within seconds property, animals and individuals are at the mercy of nature.
The mayor of Wadena, said he and his daughter prayed before getting on a four-wheeler to survey the damage. Prayer gave them strength and comfort to deal with the unknown.
Years ago, we didn't have any warnings and most storms came in the late evening or during the night. Dad had worked in North Dakota where storms swept across the plains and were a natural tragedy every summer. He knew what to look for but this one was different. He watched the sky and was quite accurate in predicting the weather. When the tornado hit our farm, there was no advance warning in the clouds, wind or temperature. There were no sirens or radio alerts. It came out of the sky and as a total surprise for our family.
Mom had just finished dishes and we were sitting around the kitchen table when Dad heard that rumble. With a plan in place, Dad raced to the back door and Mom to the front door. My sister and I held hands in the doorway under the beam supporting our house. We asked what we could do, and Mom said "pray." Then it was over. What seemed like hours lasted only a few minutes or seconds. Our party phone line was out but the neighbors didn't know it happened because theirs worked.
A big cottonwood tree fell on the roof of the house and broke a window in the living room. That tree fell across the driveway so Dad couldn't go for help and did what they had to do in spite of the heavy rain that followed.
They calmed us down before Dad lit a lantern, went to check the animals and other buildings. When he came in he had a saw to cut the branches off so he could board up the window for the night. He told Mom they would have to go out to prop a fence so the spooked animals couldn't get out.
The next morning we found out it was a hopscotch tornado, similar to the one in southern Minnesota. It hit one place and bounced off for a mile or two before touching down again. Our neighbors were not aware we had been hit until someone drove past on the country road an stopped. Word of the five or six farms that were damaged spread fast.
Our water source was the windmill that blew down. The pasture fence was flattened when a hay wagon flipped over it. The "necessity house" had been lifted and set up right about a block away. Debris from the yard was picked up a half mile away.
Cleanup was a slow process without chain saws cutting the huge tree. There was no Salvation Army, inspectors or insurance adjusters to call or wait for. Daily work had to be done and crops harvested for winter.
The first thing neighbors did was get that little house back where it belonged before the storm hit and then fix the pasture fence. Slowly the buildings were repaired and as I recall, things were almost back to normal by winter of that year.
The tornado that hit our farm happened years ago, but I will never forget that rumble or the fear in my parents' eyes for those few seconds. I will carry that memory to my grave. There is not stopping Mother Nature when she displays her wrath of fury. Today, like years ago, people can still pray for strength during a difficult time.