Moments after the tornado had gone, people in Hugo's worst-hit neighborhood emerged to find houses flattened, natural gas escaping from broken pipes, a mother who couldn't find her children. They sprang into action.
Neighbors went house to house, calling into the wreckage for survivors. The Prindle home was destroyed, and 4-year-old Annika Prindle lay unconscious in the rubble of its foundation. Her brother Nathaniel, 2, was missing.
"The mom and dad were stuck, and we pulled them out," neighbor Scott Wesolaski said.
Gerard Prindle was badly injured, and his wife, Christy, was bloodied and frantic.
The green-and-white two-story house had been smashed and scattered into a pond. First one neighbor and then another worked to resuscitate the little girl. Then came shouts from another neighbor, who had been searching the pond behind the Prindles' home and had found the boy's body.
"I've got him! I've got him!" Marvin Miller shouted. But the boy couldn't be revived.
The minutes before emergency responders arrived were chaotic.
But neighbors put aside their own concerns and losses to help one another, Wesolaski and others said.
"Gas was hissing and smelling," resident Fernando Flores said. One man put himself at risk by running from house to house, shutting off the gas lines.
More help on the way
The Prindles' next-door neighbor, Rachel Baldwin, 19, had just freed herself from a tiny space under the stairway of what had been her family's house on Fenway Avenue N. She heard neighbors calling, "Is everyone OK? Is anybody trapped?"
Baldwin called to the volunteer rescuers. They helped get her stepfather and her boyfriend out of the house, which also had been blasted from its foundation and into the pond.
Holli Marshall, 36, told of the neighbors who helped one man who was left in the wreckage of his basement, calling out that he needed his heart medicine. They helped him get his nitroglycerin,she said.
Emergency responders reacted quickly, but their vehicles wouldn't have made it through if neighbors hadn't moved a flipped truck and cleared debris, Marshall said.
Annika was in critical condition Monday at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul. Her father suffered broken bones and was in stable condition at Regions Hospital. Christy Prindle was treated and released.
From Hugo Mayor Fran Miron to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, officials expressed condolences for the Prindle family, yet also expressed relief that the death toll wasn't higher. Twenty people had been listed as missing, but all were accounted for, officials said.
"We've had a significant fatality with the loss of a young boy here," Miron said. "We've had a number of people who have received medical treatment, and we're pleased to say that the loss here in life has been limited to just that one."
Pawlenty said there are city employees whose homes were damaged, yet they didn't mention it as they showed up to work through the night, helping others.
"There are many, many stories of selfless sacrifice in this incident, and that's typical of Minnesotans -- always running to try to help others. In this case, we have neighbors helping neighbors," Pawlenty said.
Joy Powell • 612-673-7750