State recovering after dozens of tornado touchdowns

State officials say three people died while as many as 40 twisters struck, leaving untold damage in their wake.

Across an unprecedented swath of storm-damaged Minnesota — from the far northwest reaches to the Iowa border — public officials, politicians and thousands of people on Friday began picking up the shattered pieces left behind by the worst one-day tally of tornadoes in state history.

State officials reported that up to 40 tornadoes struck Thursday, killing three people, injuring dozens, leaving countless homeless and wreaking an untold amount of damage. It was the worst one-day death toll from tornadoes since 1998.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty spent Friday assessing the damage from the nearly “unprecedented number” of tornadoes but extolling the “can-do attitude” of Minnesotans putting their lives back together.

Pawlenty said recovery is “a big challenge.” Of Minnesotans, he said: “They come together in crisis ... These communities will come back; they will be rebuilt.”

On Friday the governor signed an executive order authorizing assistance to those affected by the storm. He authorized 75 National Guard soldiers to support law enforcement in southern Minnesota communities affected by tornadoes and another 43 for Wadena County.

He also directed officials to ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct preliminary damage assessments in seven Minnesota counties. Those assessments will determine if federal disaster relief is needed.

The goal for the weekend and beyond, officials said, is to restore power, clear debris and help people heal.

Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, a candidate to succeed Pawlenty, pledged in a statement Friday “the full resources of state government to provide immediate relief for victims of this storm, and rebuild the communities that have been destroyed.”

In the Twin Cities, a joint information center — utilizing Facebook and Twitter to update the public on cleanup and recovery efforts — was established to help in the process.

Victims, and victims spared

In the storms’ deadly wake, people shared stories of tragedy — and heroism.

• Wes Michaels wasn’t supposed to be behind the counter of his Cenex gas station Thursday, his 58th birthday. But when he heard the storm warnings, he sped over to check on his daughter Heidi.

Once he got there, he saw the twister heading straight for the station. He told Heidi and several customers to get in a walk-in cooler — just before the tornado destroyed the store and four vehicles. Michaels was killed. His daughter and the customers survived.

“He saved me,” Heidi Michaels said.

• Near Almora, in Otter Tail County, the body of Margie Schulke, 79, was blown across the road from her mobile home, which was wiped out by a tornado. David Hauser, Otter Tail County Attorney and county spokesman, said, “It’s very possible that she was swept away” by the force of the storm.

Hauser said “several tornado touchdowns” were spotted in an area 36 miles long and 7 miles wide. Six people were injured and 45 homes damaged, six of which were destroyed.

• Kathy Woodside, 67, died when her southern Minnesota mobile home and barn, located west of Albert Lea, were destroyed. With no basement, she had nowhere to go for refuge.

Devastation north and south

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