‘There was nothing left’

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Before June 17, they had never known each other.

Working a few miles southwest of the former Ron and Kathy Woodside home, young men Adam Hoernemann and Spencer Wallin only knew the fact that the couple lived in a trailer.

But when a tornado touched down that Thursday, damaging homes and properties across the county, a special bond was created.

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Hoernemann, 21, and Wallin, 15, were the first to find the Woodside couple in a ditch north of their trailer, on 220th Street, in the minutes after an EF4 tornado struck their home.

Then this past week, Wallin found Kathy Woodside’s wallet in the field north of the Woodsides’ home.

“I was shocked,” Wallin said.

Kathy died from severe injuries she received the night of the tornado, and Ron is in St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, recovering from several surgeries.

On the night of June 17, the two young men were at Bob and Donna Nelson’s farm, where Hoernemann works full time and Wallin works part time.

He said they were just starting to do chores when it started raining. They went into the shop on the Nelson property, and then it started hailing.

They hurried over to the Nelsons’ house and went to the basement where the Nelsons were also waiting out the storm.

Hoernemann said he saw part of the tornado through a window as it passed. He just hoped it wasn’t coming their direction.

They waited awhile in the basement. After the weather calmed down, the young men came out of the house’s east side door. They saw devastation at nearby properties.

Hoernemann and Wallin quickly headed off north, while the Nelsons went south.

Hoernemann said they went to the first house they encountered on 220th Street. The people there were OK; they were standing in the doorway.

Then the two young men went to the next house, the Woodsides’ property.

“There was nothing left,” Hoernemann said. “The trailer house was gone.”

The young men didn’t think anyone was home, so they turned around to leave. Then all of the sudden, Hoernemann said, he heard a barely audible “Hey.”

“How I heard that I don’t know,” Hoernemann said.

There, in the ditch, to the north of their home were the Woodsides about four feet apart from each other.

Hoernemann said Kathy had her back toward the road; Ron was lying flat on his back.

He said he thinks the two were taking cover there as the tornado passed, unlike what was previously thought — that the two ended up in the ditch after they were thrown from the house.

Wallin described the Woodsides as having lots of torn clothing.

Hoernemann said he and Wallin started flagging down others. One grabbed a long-sleeve shirt and put it over Kathy. Eventually Hoernemann went to get additional help from nearby firefighters.

He said he tried calling 911 but ended up calling the wrong number.

Eventually, they got more help.

“I wish I could have heard that she lived,” Hoernemann said.

“It’s something you don’t need a picture to remember,” he added. “Someone asked me if I took a lot of pictures. I said, ‘I don’t need pictures I don’t want to remember.”

As if that experience weren’t enough, this past week, the two young men were cleaning up in the field directly north of the Woodsides’ home with a group of people.

Hoernemann said Wallin was digging at something, which ended up being Kathy’s wallet.

It brought back all the memories of that night.

The two young men said the experience comes back into their minds periodically each day.

They have not talked to the Woodside family since that night.

Hoernemann is a Riverland Community College graduate who lives in Albert Lea.

Wallin lives in Alden and will be a sophomore at Alden-Conger High School this fall.