Devastation strikes several farms across the region

Published 12:33 am Friday, June 18, 2010

Multiple tornadoes struck the Albert Lea area from southwest of Kiester all the way past Blooming Prairie. The storm continued to the northwest into the evening.

Many people were injured; however, first responders were hampered by downed power lines. Farms that were hit smelled of natural gas. Livestock ran loose. Barns, garages, machine sheds, corn cribs and houses were flattened.

Power for homes in and around the cities of Kiester, Hollandale, Manchester, Alden and Freeborn was lacking for the night. The National Guard opened the Armory for the night; however, most people without homes stayed the night with friends or relatives.

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Bob and Laural Hanson’s two children were not at home Thursday. When the storm was approaching, they decided to join others at the Main Street Grill. In Alden, people told them homes had been leveled.

When they returned, they found their home, on gravel 680th Avenue just south of Freeborn County Road 46’s junction with County 12, completely removed from its foundation, almost like in the “Wizard of Oz.”

Bob looked at the devastation of his basement on Thursday evening and said, “If we hadn’t left, we’d be down in there.”

Then he turned and looked at the devastation. The house, even though it stood, was west of its foundation. The rest of his buildings were smashed.

“I had a barn, a shed, a grain bin and a garage,” he said.

The Gordon Toenges farm on County Road 46 smelled like gasoline. Horses wandered onto the road, and sheep huddled in the foundation of the barn. The rest of the barn was gone. A car was tossed onto a pile of tree branches and pieces of a building. The house stood but was in shambles. One sheep, blackened by what smelled like gasoline, was bleating near wreckage.

The home at the Kerry Graves farm up the road was leveled. Ambulances reached the home because of injuries. On the way to the home, one ambulance went into the ditch when going around a downed power line on County 46. Locals managed to pull it out. There was a point large vehicles such as fire trucks could not get pass, but smaller vehicles could.

The smell of natural gas filled the air at the Graves home. A dog wandered the acreage.

Shawn Linn watched the funnel cloud approach from a bridge on County 12. He said the tornado became wide as it approached the homes struck along County 46. The twister struck a 2,000-head hog farm a mile west of Armstrong.

The barn at the Charles and Linda Schmidt farm was a total loss. The back of the machine shed was gone, and half of the garage lifted off, though the cars in it were OK.

Charles said they watched the tornados, then he chased his family into the house, though he stayed outside.

“I just grabbed a tree and held on,” he said. “And, yes, it does sound like a freight train.”

Linda pointed out that the U.S. flag remained attached to their flagpole.

“Oh, my goodness!” she exclaimed.

“We’re pretty patriotic in this family,” Charles added.

Part of the roof was torn off of John Perschbacher’s nearly new home. Trees were down on the property and windows were busted out.


Corrugated steel from a nearby shed wrapped around the utility pole reading “424” at the entrance of Curtis and Mary Petersen’s house this morning. They stood at the end of the gravel driveway, with wet eyes, wrapped in neighbor’s arms. Their farm had been destroyed in the previous night’s storms.

Curtis’ brown truck sat sideways, blocking the driveway from looters. The tailgate was gone, ripped off during the night. The driver’s side window was shattered, and more glass fell into the gravel each time the door was shut. They were about to leave for the insurance agency but the truck’s condition paled in comparison to the twisted trees and destroyed farms that their neighbor’s called home.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Curtis, staring at the ground.

Curtis and Mary had been sitting in their favorite room, “the up-north room,” they called it, a new addition to the house.

The storm began to surge as they sat in their recliners and Mary suggested they move to the basement, Curtis agreed.

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Two steps down the stairs, with Curtis close behind, Mary turn back towards the open door and saw the up-north room dissapeared.

“I could hear glass breaking,” Mary said. “Everything was demolished.”

Curtis farmed corn and beans and lost his fields.

Two giant blue silos laid flat on the ground, trees that still stood caught debris and the machine shed had collapsed over tractors.

The garage was now and slap of concrete and the up-north a bed of carpet filled with figurines and books. The recliners the couple sat in the night before were reduced to scraps. All that was the left of the up-north room was one exposed wood paneled wall with a canoe paddle used to hold keys.

One set was missing, the keys used to start up Curtis’ brown pickup truck as the couple left what was left of their farm.

Farms surrounding the Conger area were smashed. A hog farm holding more than 3,000 hogs southwest of Conger was destroyed. Hogs remained standing on their slabs of concrete, even though the building was gone.

Forklifts and heavy machinery were clearing trees and debris. Family and friends were making sure everyone was OK and were lending helping hands.

Clarks Grove

The Tribune’s initial survey of the Clarks Grove area found several downed trees and large amounts of standing water in some areas.

Some fields looked like lakes with the amount of rain that fell.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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