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Record editorial: Hugo tragedy shows the need for tornado sirens in DL

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opinion Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

It may be just our imagination, but it seems like the weather is getting more unpredictable these days.

Tornadoes can form fast and strike anywhere in Minnesota, as was shown in Hugo, a city of about 12,000 which was ravaged by an F-3 tornado on May 25.

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Anita and Eric Furbur were at home at the time the tornado struck. They heard the sirens and had time to get into the lower level. Their two daughters were at the neighbors behind their house. Anita said she talked to her girls on the cell phone and told them to stay put.

The tornado did its damage in less than 15 seconds, Eric said.

The city has five emergency sirens, three of which cover the damaged neighborhood, and all were working and heard by residents.

Their only complaint about warning sirens is that the city didn't blow them long enough.

Sirens sounded throughout northern Washington County for 4 minutes, 11 seconds beginning at 4:40 p.m., according to city officials. The tornado hit Hugo at 5 p.m. Some people thought the danger had passed and went upstairs too early.

There is no magical shield protecting Detroit Lakes. The city of 8,000 could just as easily receive a visit from an F-3 tornado as the good people of Hugo.

There are no warning sirens in Detroit Lakes, and as far as we can tell, the city council and mayor have no serious plans to provide any.

Do sirens save lives? Anita and Eric Furbur sure think so.

Only one person died in Hugo, a 2-year-old boy. The toll would undoubtedly have been worse without warning sirens.

Detroit Lakes city officials dug in their heels on this issue several years ago, when they decided the city wasn't going to spend several hundred thousand dollars on sirens.

Enough is enough. It's time to undig those heels. The city has been lucky so far, but sooner or later its luck will run out and a tornado will strike. Advanced warning, even a few minutes of warning, provided by tornado sirens will save lives.

Sirens could also be used to warn people of other emergencies. Dozens of trains run through the city -- day and night -- some carrying chemicals that could require an evacuation in the case of derailment.

Don't forget the Jan. 18, 2002, derailment outside Minot, N.D.

More than 250,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia spilled from shattered tanker cars, creating a toxic plume over the city and surrounding area.

The plume affected about 15,000 of Minot's 36,567 residents, forced 1,605 people to seek medical treatment, and killed one man.

Emergencies happen. The city needs warning sirens, and the city council needs to find a way to make that happen.

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