Extent of damage starts to sink in
WADENA, Minn. - When Maria Marthaler emerged from her basement and looked out her blown-out picture window after Thursday's tornado, she couldn't believe what she saw.
"All I could say was, 'Oh my God,' " Marthaler said Sunday as she and her family began the cleanup at their southwest Wadena home.
The extent of the damage to this neighborhood was still sinking in with many homeowners Sunday as law enforcement relaxed restrictions on this hard-hit area of town.
The tornado tore a 10-mile swath that in some areas stretched a mile wide through the west end of town and surrounding areas. The tornado was a category EF4, with winds reaching 170 miles per hour, the National Weather Service in Grand Forks said Sunday.
Bob Randall was sleeping before work in his southwest Wadena home when the tornado tore through. He and his family were working Sunday to board up broken windows and patch holes in the roof.
Randall said the neighborhood in which he raised his four grown children is hard to recognize, but he knows it will return to its former shape.
"It'll take time, but it will," he said.
Residents and volunteers will spend the next few days removing what can be salvaged from homes. Debris pick-up will start later this week.
Surrounding townships need help clearing land of debris before farmers can get back in the fields, Mayor Wayne Wolden said.
At least 18 cleanup-related injuries had been reported Sunday afternoon.
Steve Carbno of the Salvation Army urged residents at an afternoon meeting to watch out for each other and stay safe during cleanup efforts.
Roads in town reopened Sunday morning but are still heavily monitored by law enforcement to ensure cleanup crews can move freely and keep looters out, said Sheriff Mike Carr.
"If you're not helping, stay out," Carr said.
Parts of the heavily damaged high school began crumbling Sunday, Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom said.
A Facebook group cropped up this weekend, spurring rumors that ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" would be doing a special "school edition" in the city, but both Mayor Wolden and Dahlstrom said they knew nothing about the story's credibility.
Across the street, Minnesota State Community and Technical College-Wadena also sustained "extensive damage," said James McCormick, chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
McCormick said MnSCU and the Wadena public school system have a history of working together and plan to continue throughout cleanup and rebuilding efforts.
Summer-school classes will likely be held at the nearby elementary school or another nearby MnSCU school, but the Wadena campus remains closed through at least Tuesday, said Ann Valentine, MSCTC president.
MnSCU plans to have the campus repaired when classes start in September, Valentine said.
How to help
Volunteers can call (218) 640-3432 to find out how to help. A tornado relief fund has been set up at Mid-Central Federal Savings Bank in Wadena.