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Tornado levels property in Blooming Prairie, skirts Austin

As severe storms whipped through southeastern Minnesota, a rural property in the Blooming Prairie area was leveled Thursday night — one year to the day that a tornado ravaged Austin.

The property, located at 13941 74th Ave. SE, was unoccupied at the time, as authorities determined that the owner and his family were staying with relatives in Wisconsin.

Ron Janning, a resident who lives about two miles north of the destroyed property, was driving home from a meeting in Byron, Minn., when he saw the aftermath of the storm. Having been away from his house as the bad weather came through, Janning said he had his fingers crossed that everything was OK at the residence.

“I hope it’s all in one piece,” he said.

Firefighters from the Waseca, Minn., Fire Department — who were called in from about 30 miles away to provide assistance — conducted a precautionary search and rescue nearby, although the area is sparsely populated and it didn’t appear as if there was anyone injured.

There were a number of downed power lines in the area, and squad cars were on-scene to direct traffic away.

Other areas of Blooming Prairie had downed trees, and parts of town did lose power, but it appeared as if the damage wasn’t too severe outside of the leveled property.

Austin also largely avoided the storm, as the system skirted by to the northwest of town. On June 17, 2009, a category EF2 twister hit the city, taking out a number of trees, damaging a local park and ripping into area businesses. No serious injuries were reported in that incident.

Wadena, Minn., wasn’t as lucky this June 17 — the Associated Press is reporting that at least two people from that area were killed Thursday night, while dozens more were injured as homes were flattened, trees toppled and a gas station destroyed. Wadena is about four and a half hours north of Austin, showing just how widespread damage was.

In 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.”

-Rachel Drewelow and the Associated Press contributed to this report