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
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
The city of 4,000 people was under a curfew until this morning.
Rozak said plugging gas leaks was the main priority for emergency
Power was out, and Xcel Energy crews were sent to assess the
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
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
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.