Tornado rips through west central Minnesota on Tuesday, leaving swath of debris in its wake
SPICER, Minn. -- Dave Hammerschmidt was selling fruit and vegetables Tuesday afternoon at the Country Stop outdoor stand in Spicer when he heard the approach of a tornado.
"When they say roar, that's what it does," he said.
He told his three customers at the fruit stand to run for their vehicles. There was just enough time for him to grab the money box and dive into his pickup truck before the storm hit. The produce stand was destroyed, some of the debris hitting Hammerschmidt's truck. Next door, Rick Seipel, the owner of the Country Stop, was in his office working on his computer when he heard the roar at about 4:40 p.m.
"The whole sky was filled with debris," he said.
A picnic table flew up and crashed into the top of Seipel's truck, which was parked outside his window.
Seipel said afterward that it was like a bomb went off.
"I turned and bolted," he said.
No injuries were reported, but the tornado produced widespread damage across the south side of Spicer. A tornado also was reported in Swift Falls, about 25 miles northwest of Spicer.
Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor, told the Associated Press the tornado that hit Swift Falls destroyed two turkey barns and knocked down trees and power lines. There were no immediate reports of injuries in Swift Falls.
In Spicer, the roofs from at least two homes were ripped off.
"Right now we have a sky roof," said Joyce Thorson, 77, who lives on Lakeview Drive. "For the whole length of the house you can see the outdoors."
Thorson and her husband, Eldon, were halfway down the stairs when the winds hit and they heard a loud crack. "It was really scary," she said.
They thought their patio door had broken. But when they emerged, they saw a gap in the roof on one side of the house and a large crack that runs through the entire structure.
They are unable to inhabit the building and were going to be staying with one of their sons on Lake Florida.
"It's been a hectic day," said Thorson, who was in a surprisingly cheerful mood and thankful no one was hurt, including her cat and dog.
The Thorsons lived on Lake Florida during the June 11, 2001, storm that resulted in $10,000 in damage to their home. "I got hit twice," she said with a laugh. "I guess I better get down on my knees."
The Green Lake Diamond ball field complex in southwest Spicer was hit hard.
The batting cages were destroyed, fences were down, a small press box was thrown to the ground, nearly all of the 35 sponsor signs that had been on the fences were ripped off and one port-a-potty ended up in left field and another flew over the fence, over Highway 23 and into the Green Lake Mall parking lot.
Four 17-year-old boys who were at the ballpark getting the diamonds ready for a game Tuesday night saw the clouds moving and debris spinning in circles.
Derek Henle said he and his three friends wanted to watch the storm, but they were quickly hustled to safety under the concession stand by Peg Peterson, who is director of the New London-Spicer Community Recreation program and also a mom to one of the boys.
As they huddled in the concrete shelter, they heard loud noises and thought the entire facility was being blown away. When they came out from the shelter and saw the damage, they realized the force of the winds and the seriousness of the situation.
John Vraa, NLS athletic director, said it was difficult to estimate the amount of damage at the ballpark until all the structures were examined by professionals.
"Things can be replaced," said Vraa. He hopes that volunteers who helped build the park will return to help repair it.
The good news is that the new scoreboard and large press box appeared to be untouched. Vraa said, however, it may be challenging to get the facility in shape to host the July 24-26 District 5 Legion tournament.
Vraa said he's just happy the youth workers at the ballpark were not injured.
Peterson said the damage is unfortunate, but if it had happened at 6:30 p.m., the stands would have been filled with people.
Marcia Zylstra, who is a home day-care provider near Twin Lake west of Spicer, had eight children and four parents in her basement and the phone constantly ringing as anxious parents were calling.
Zylstra said she watched the funnel cloud form and then pass by her home about a quarter-mile away. "It was a good storm drill," she said.
Ed and Linda Sluka were in their garage when the sirens went off in Spicer.
Linda Sluka said in a telephone interview that they went outside to look.
"We really didn't see a tornado," she said, but they saw heavy rotation in the clouds and saw "garbage flying" everywhere.
They live across the street from the Dethlefs Center in Spicer, which is east of the Green Lake Mall.
"We didn't want to stick around for the show," she said, so they hustled down the stairs to huddle together in a closet.
They heard a lot of noise and could hear trees breaking as the storm passed over.
In their neighborhood, a lot of trees blew down, and debris was strewn about. They could see a lot of roof damage.
A portion of the roof of one home on Hillcrest Avenue ended up in the neighbor's yard across the street.
The Slukas lost some shingles from their home, and a neighbor's shed ended up in the Slukas' yard.
First responders, sheriff's deputies and firefighters responded and closed the street in front of the house, she said, and first responders knocked on doors to be sure everyone was OK.
Cathy Koetter waited out the storm in her car in the Green Lake Mall parking lot.
Koetter was on her way to the bank when the tornado hit. "I saw stuff whirling," she said.
She drove quickly to the other side of the mall so that she could run inside for shelter but "it was too late."
She stayed in her car while the storm rocked the vehicle back and forth. It lasted for about one minute; afterward, Koetter went to the bank to make her deposit.
Lori Holmgren, an insurance agent with Pioneer Heritage Insurance, was walking the streets taking pictures of damaged homes. She had been fielding phone calls from clients who had damage to their homes, garages and trees.
Holmgren said she would start filing claims early this morning.
By Tuesday evening, volunteers had already helped clean up the fruit and vegetables that were scattered from the Country Stop's stand. Seipel and Hammerschmidt said they would have the stand up and running again by 8 a.m. today.
There was one thing Hammerschmidt managed to save: the donations he has been collecting for Rice Hospice. The jar was cracked but all the money inside was still intact.