AP: Two dead as tornadoes tear across Minnesota

WADENA, Minn. — Tornadoes ripped across Minnesota on Thursday evening, killing at least two people and injuring dozens more as homes were flattened, trees toppled and a gas station destroyed.

Some of the hardest-hit areas were in the northwest part of the state, where both deaths were reported.

Otter Tail County Emergency spokesman David Hauser said an elderly woman was killed when a tornado wiped out her home in Almora, a small town of about 20 people. At least three people were injured, he said. Brittney Schulke of Almora told The Daily Journal that her grandmother, Margie Schulke, was killed and that her grandfather, Norman Schulke, suffered two broken shoulders.

Debris including shingles and pieces of buildings littered the town. Several large trees were uprooted.

In Mentor, a man was killed when a twister destroyed the Cenex gas station, the Polk County sheriff’s office said. Three other people were hurt.

Heavy damage also was reported in Wadena, a town of about 4,300, where a tornado was confirmed about 5 p.m., said National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust.

Mayor Wayne Wolden said sirens gave plenty of warning. He said many people were in the town for an all-school reunion. Wadena is northeast of Almora and both towns are about 70 miles southeast of Fargo, N.D.

Twenty people were treated for injuries at the Wadena hospital, mostly for bumps and bruises, nursing supervisor Kathy Kleen said.

Crews worked into the evening to control dozens of gas leaks. Wadena’s community pool was destroyed, the high school “extremely busted up” and the community center beyond repair, Wolden said.

His wife, Lori Wolden, said houses were “half-gone” and “there’s no trees” in the southwest part of the town.

Jay Hotakainen, 38, huddled in his basement with his 12-year-old son, Lee, and 6-year-old daughter Emma. He said the walls shook and everything in the house rattled.

“They say it sounds like a freight train. It does,” he said.

In Almora, Mabel Wangerin said she heard her bedroom windows rattle as the storm came through, then watched her quilt fly off the bed and out the window.

“I was over by the window and prayed and prayed,” Wangerin said.

The violent weather was widespread. The National Weather Service reported other tornado touchdowns in several cities across the state.

Albert Lea Mayor Mike Murtaugh headed for the basement as the tornado warnings sounded. He told KSTP-TV he was not immediately aware of any damage within the city. But he said he could tell from scanner traffic that some homes and farm sites outside of town had been destroyed.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the state’s emergency management director, Kris Eide, planned to visit the Wadena and Albert Lea areas Friday to meet with local officials and survey the damage.

“Our emergency management officials have been working closely with local officials and we stand ready to assist in every way needed,” the governor said in a statement. “Tomorrow we will visit the areas hit hardest by these tornadoes to ensure that the response is swift and comprehensive.”