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Freeborn County endured up to nine tornadoes that tore up dozens of farms, said Mark Roche, the county’s emergency management director. Fourteen people were reported injured, with two requiring hospitalization.
In adjacent Faribault County, Scott Graves spent Friday picking up the pieces of his brother’s farm near Armstrong. Only the bathroom was left standing; that’s where his brother and two sisters huddled while a tornado destroyed their home. Neighbors dug them out of the rubble.
They were taken to a hospital in Albert Lea, where they are recovering.
“They’ve got their lives, and that’s more important than their property,” Graves said.
Wadena suffered perhaps the most extensive damage from storms that tallied, statewide, 39 reported tornadoes, 26 funnel clouds, 11 reports of damage from thunderstorm winds and 69 reports of hail.
Twenty people were treated at the hospital in Wadena for mostly minor injuries. Natural gas leaks popped up around the town of about 4,300, the community pool was destroyed and the community college suffered extensive damage. The worst damage appeared to be on the town’s southwest side, where the tornado ripped through Wadena-Deer Creek High School and destroyed homes for several blocks. Nearby was the still-standing home of Craig and Cindy Wood, its north wall sliced off as neatly as if it were a doll house.
Across the street is the Wadena city pool, where the Woods’ daughter, Mariah, 16, was working Thursday as a lifeguard. As the storm approached, the lifeguards called parents to get their children. Twenty minutes before the tornado hit, two children remained with the lifeguards.
In emergencies, they were to go to the maintenance building. Mariah Wood called her mother and asked if there was room in the family basement. Cindy Wood told them to run over.
After the tornado, they looked at the pool and saw that the maintenance building was gone. “We would’ve been dead,” Mariah Wood said.
Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden flew over his town and saw “a horrific sight from the air. ... Thank God for the emergency management system early alert. I and many other people were in their basements, and it spared our lives.”
Rodney Tucker, 46, was alone at his Wadena home when he heard the tornado warnings, grabbed his dog and headed for the basement.
“As soon as I got in the basement, I heard glass breaking,” he said. “The dog got scared and ran upstairs, so I ran after him. As soon as I got into the living room, the house collapsed on us.”
The steel roof from a nearby ice rink crushed his home.
As he started working his way through a small opening in the debris, a crew from the Discovery Channel TV show “Storm Chasers” helped him out. They were filming, Tucker said, but he didn’t mind.
“I’m very lucky. I give God credit for that one,” he said. “It could have gone either way.”
Staff writers Kevin Duchschere, Shari Gross, Mary Lynn Smith, Vince Tuss, Alex Ebert and Tim Harlow contributed to this report.
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