Good Morning America World News Tonight 20/20 Primetime Nightline UpClose WNN This Week
September 5, 2002
Sponsored by NetZero!
Click Here! Sponsored by
Wisconsin Tornado

Marty Reynolds, mayor of Ladysmith, Wis., stands near the remains of his pickup truck outside his bed and breakfast. (Morry Gash/AP Photo)
Disastrous Twister
Tornado Rips Through Wisconsin Town

By Todd Richmond
The Associated Press

L A D Y S M I T H, Wis., Sept. 3 — A U-haul sits in the Federal Savings & Loan lobby. The E-Z Stop's roof is wrapped around a tree. The Baptist church is a pile of rock.

Print This Page
Email This Page
See Most Sent
Unsung Banker Keeps Economy From Crashing
Nutritionists Warn Fries Are Not Health Food
Can We Build Up Our Own Happiness?
The tornado that tore through this tiny northwestern Wisconsin town Monday injured dozens of people and destroyed or damaged as many as 60 homes and businesses, Police Chief Norm Rozak said.

"A lot of people are just walking and crying," resident Dawn Hills said. "No one in their worst dreams thought this could happen."

The tornado was part of a larger storm that swept across northern Wisconsin and generated at least one other tornado, which hit a rural area near Wausau.

The twister struck Ladysmith at 4:30 p.m., destroying homes and tearing the roofs off the Davis Motel and Lounge and the town fire department. It cut a path through downtown, which would have bustling had it not been Labor Day. Residents said the town's tornado siren never sounded. It happened too fast, they said.

About 40 people were taken to area hospitals with injuries, although 21 were released Monday night, hospital officials said.

City officials had accounted for everyone, and it appeared most of their injuries were bruises and cuts, Rozak said.

"It surprises me right now, looking at this devastation, that nobody to our knowledge is deceased," Rozak said late Monday.

"It's not good for us, but there's a lot of great people up here.

We'll have so many volunteers tomorrow that we won't know what to do with all of them."

‘Like a Sandstorm’

The storm swept through two small neighborhoods and the business district in the center of town.

Peter Ollinger said he sat outside and watched a half-mile-wide cloud of spinning lumber, glass and rock tear through town. Then he scrambled into his father's bomb shelter.

"It looked like a sandstorm," he said. "It sounded exactly like a train. It scared the hell out of me."

Gov. Scott McCallum declared Ladysmith a disaster area and planned to visit the site today, spokesman Tim Roby said.

McCallum told rescue workers to start working under the declaration Monday night before he formally signed it today, Roby said.

The city of 4,000 people was under a curfew until this morning. Rozak said plugging gas leaks was the main priority for emergency crews.

Power was out, and Xcel Energy crews were sent to assess the damage.

The American Red Cross set up an aid station at the public school building in the neighboring town of Bruce to help people left homeless by the tornado. About 20 people spent the night on cots at the school, said Bruce Superintendent Debra Brown.

The first day of classes today were canceled for the 640 students attending the school, which includes pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

Brown said the needs of the tornado victims were the priority.

"We're serving breakfast and probably lunch. And, we're not sure what we'll need to do," she said.

Years of Work Destroyed

Shattered glass, broken lumber and other debris littered the city's main street. Tree limbs as thick as a man's thigh covered the gas pumps at the E-Z Stop. Tree trunks sat in attic windows.

Sheriff's deputies spent the night patrolling the edge of town and guarding its two banks from looters.

Mayor Marty Reynolds, who quit the state Legislature to run a bed and breakfast downtown and is running for lieutenant governor, was out of town when he heard about the tornado.

He rushed back to discover the town's water tower had collapsed on his garage. The tidal wave of water smashed through the windows of his bed and breakfast.

"I just spent three years building this," he said as he inspected the damage, glass shards crunching under his feet. "I don't know if I can do this again."

His campaign finance reports lay in a tattered, soaked heap in what was once the inn's breakfast room. Outside, a tree limb had impaled his pickup and garage door.

"I've got a van out here somewhere, too," he said. "Somebody said they saw it in the river."

State Highways 8 and 27 were closed into Ladysmith because of storm damage, and the State Patrol was diverting traffic around the area, dispatcher Donna Gisicki said. Police cars with flashing lights stopped people from going into the city Monday night.

A second tornado hit north of Wausau on Monday evening, National Weather Service meteorologist Roy Eckberg said.

A few houses were damaged and trees and power lines were down in the lightly populated area where the tornado hit, said Marathon Emergency Government Director Jerome Boettcher. He had no reports of injuries.

Wisconsin Public Service had 3,100 customers in Wausau and Rhinelander without power Monday night because of damaged power lines, but crews were having trouble reaching the sites, spokesman Larry Matzke said.

Numerous big trees toppled on Dave Mueller's property near Wausau. "You can see the sky now where you couldn't before," he said.

A giant evergreen tree blocked the entrance of Rest Lawn Cemetery near Wausau, and county Highway W was closed to all but local traffic because of storm debris.

People in Langlade, Shawano and Fond du Lac counties also reported seeing funnel clouds, but the National Weather Service could not confirm those reports.

Other parts of northern Wisconsin reported building and tree damage because of the storm, which swept across much of the state. The Gilman School District in Taylor County had the roof torn off its school, and classes were canceled today and Wednesday.

Reynolds, his eyes bloodshot, spent the night sifting through what was left of his dream. He plans to lead the repair crews today.

"We'll be back," he said.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
A&E Minute by Minute
A Profile of 9/11's Economic Savior
Hippie Musical Finds Post-9/11 Meaning
Man Threatens Bush, Arrested
Can You Think Yourself Happy?
Crime Blotter: Prison Suspends Satanism
Search Now:
In Association with


Copyright © 2002 ABCNEWS Internet Ventures.

Family of sites:        ABC Family        GO Mail