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Hanging on in the midst of tragedy

Special section • Inter-County Leader • June 20, 2011

A special section of photos from the tornado that hit Burnett County on Monday

Siren area copes with tornado’s aftermath

by Nancy Jappe SIREN – In the midst of tragedy, people often seize upon something humorous just to keep them going. Karen Howe, owner of Syren General Store, did this when she found ice cream still frozen in the freezer in her business, destroyed by the tornado that hit the village Monday evening. Howe, her family and friends were busy at work hauling salvageable merchandise out of the building. “When we finish this, we're going to have a cone,” she said. Howe’s building, new just a year ago, was on the north edge of the destruction.

Walking man Jens Rasmussen, a 90-something Siren legend who can be seen walking to the grocery store or local restaurants several times a day, in all types of weather, lives less than a block from Siren Covenant Church. Rasmussen was home when the storm hit. The lights went out and he went to bed, in his second-floor bedroom. Dr. John Ingalls, Webster, is Rasmussen’s grandson. As soon as Ingalls got to Siren to volunteer his services, he went to check on Jens, finding him sound asleep, safe and totally unaware of the devastation that was going on around him. Like an earthquake “This reminds me of 1971 when a 6.3 (on the Richter scale) earthquake hit the San Fernando Valley in California. Like the Siren Hotel (whose one wall was gone, exposing the interior), that is the way all of the houses looked,” said Bill Heffner, who lives on Viola Lake. Heffner and his wife, Lois, came into Siren the next day to survey the damage. They saw the storm coming east across Viola Lake. Bill used the words “gray/green” in describing how the sky looked at that time. “It didn’t scare me that much,” he said. “A week ago, I saw skies that looked a lot worse than this.”

Holding on Greg Hunter, owner of the Pour House, a well-known Siren business, was at his home south and east of the village when the tornado struck. Hunter, a volunteer firefighter, heard the paging call and came into town in his role as firefighter, not realizing that his business had been one of those that was hit. Staff members and customers at the Pour House went into two walk-in coolers when the tornado hit. None were hit, but bartender Chris Cormell escaped injury by holding onto a customer’s leg as the cooler that sheltered him exploded. Hunter said the business was covered by insurance and that there is no doubt they will rebuild. “I have kids to bring up,” he said.

In a scene reminiscent of a war movie, a news helicipter hovers over the devated streets of Siren early Tuesday morning, ls than 12 hours after the tornado hit. – Photo by Gary King

Survivors Homes to the east of the Pour House were totally destroyed. Dick Blaker, his wife, Cindy, and daughter Naomi had just gotten into the basement when their home went down. The three spent the night at Siren United Methodist Church. Elderly residents at Birchwood Manor, the housing unit on Fourth Avenue, huddled into one room as the storm hit. Amazingly, all of

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Just minutes after the tornado struck Monday evening, sights like these stunned area residents. Siren's new ice arean (above) was in the direct path of the twister and was completely destoryed. At left, the Timbers Theatre sustained heavy damage, including roof damage. Below, the Shops at The Lodge, which just celebrated its first year of business, was destroyed. Other businesses on the north end of the village which were hit hard include Auto Stop, the new Dairy Queen, Dr. Sheldon Olsen's dental office, The Pour House, Russ' Old Fashioned Meats (just opened in April), and Timberland Gifts and Goods. Adventures Resturant and the The Lodge at Crooked Lake just 100 years to the north of The Shops escaped the devastation experienced by other businesses. – Photos by Nancy Jappe

More than 1,000 electric customers without power due to tornado CENTURIA — More than 1,000 PolkBurnett electric customers were without power June 19 due to the tornado that struck the Siren area June 18. Because of the amount of damage to the electric system, Polk-Burnett expects that some customers will be without power for at least five days. All available Polk-Burnett crews are working to repair extensive damage to poles and lines, primarily in the area directly east of the village of Siren. In addition, crews have been brought in to assist from several area electric cooper-

atives and tree service contracting companies. All downed power lines should be considered extremely hazardous. Since it’s impossible to know whether downed lines are carrying electricity, it’s critical to leave lines undisturbed and to report them to Polk-Burnett at 800-421-0283. If possible, customers without power should make provisions to move perishable foods to other locations or place them on ice.

Burnett County Sheriff Chief Deputy Don Taylor (L) talks with bystanders at the triage center established in the parking lot of Main Street Market. – PHoto by Gary King


Firefighters checked homes throughout the Village of Siren in the hours following the trnado touchdown. Right next to this house a smaller home was untouched and a couple, in their 90s, chose to ride out the storm and remain in their home despite offers to take them to a shelter. At right, Webster teens pause after spending most of the evening helping people removed trees and debris from their homes on the north and west side of the village. Below, car were overturned in front of The Pour House, one of the hardest hit businesses in Siren. – Photos by Gary King

WHEDA has distributed emergency funds through Bremer Bank Wisconsin Housing and Econmic Development Authority has just notified Brmer that they are making emergency funds avaialble to the reisdents of Siren. If you are in need of temporary assistance after the distruction in the Siren area please stop at the Brmer Bank in Siren where the funds are available. If you wish to donate funds Bremer Bank has established a disaster fund for anyone willing to assist the area residents.

The Bremer Bank in Siren is open and they are assiting customers with their accounts or any questions they may have. Bremer offices in Frederic, Danbury and Amery are available if you are experiencing problems getting in contact with the Siren office. For 24hour service, please use the Bremer ATM available at Yourchuck Hardware or contact phone bank at 800-908BANK.

Firstar Bank announces storm damage assistance program


GRANTSBURG — Firstar Bank has established a special financial assistance program to aid residents and businesses suffering damages from the recent server weather in the Burnett County area. The storm damage assistance program will include special home equity loans, personal loans and small-business loans. Judy Johnson, branch manager of Firstar’s Siren office, which suffered damage as a result of the June 18 tornado, remarked, “As a member of the community it is our responsibility to make sure that we are ready to help people when they are in need. In the aftermath of the recent storm and the resulting damage, we want people to know that they can turn to us for assistance. Our first concern is for the people of the Burnett County area, our customers, employees and others and how we can lend a hand during this unfortunate time.” Firstar’s storm damage assistance program is for any consumer or small business affected by the storm in or around the communities of Grantsburg, Siren, Webster, Frederic, Cushing and Spooner and includes personal and/or small-business lines of credit at a reduced rate of 6.00 percent APR. Also, Firstar is offering a home equity line of credit at a reduced rate of 6.50 percent APR with no closing fees. Additionally, Firstar will offer special loans for repairs or replacement of autos. Firstar Bank will respond to assistance requests from consumers and small businesses within 24 hours or less. To benefit from this special Firstar storm damage assistance program, interested individuals or small businesses should go to any Firstar branch in Grantsburg, Siren, Webster, Frederic, Cushing or Spooner or call 715-463-5301 during business hours. The storm damage assistance program will began June 19 and will be available through July 21. Firstar Bank will employ its standard credit qualification procedures for all loan requests in the storm damage assistance program. To participate in the storm damage assistance program consumers or small-business owners should have proof of damage, such as insurance forms, estimates of repair costs or other documentation.

Siren's new Dairy Queen, owned by siblings Kent Boyer and Kara Alden, was in the tornado's path, Monday.

At right, volunteers lined up at the Burnett County Government Center Tuesday, waiting for the issuing of wristbands that would allow them to enter the village of Siren. Only people wearing the wristband were allowed into the village, as cleanup from tornado destruction began. The village was also put under curfew for outsiders running from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. – Photo by Nancy Jappe

Below, Frederic firefighters Lydell Larson, Mark Darwin and Bruce Lundquist transported food to the Red Cross shelter at the high school, Mondy evenign. The food was donated by Main Street Market which sustained damage in the storm. Below, right, Main Stret Market's downed sign servied as a maakeshift tabble as EMS volunteers and professionals gathered in the store's parking lot to set up a triage camp. – Photos by Gary King


Tornado rated F3

The National Weather Service has categorized the tornado that swept through northwest Wisconsin Monday night as an "F3," meaning it packed winds of 158-206 mph. The Fujita Tornado Scale, usually referred to as the F-Scale, classifies tornadoes based on the resulting damage. This scale was developed by Dr. T. Theodore Fujita at the University of Chicago in 1971. In theory, the scale is open-ended but there has never been a storm in the U.S. that exceeded the "F5" rating. Fujita ratings F0 40-72 mph Minimal Damage: Some damage to chimneys, TV antennas, roof shingles, trees, and windows. F1 73-112 mph Moderate Damage: Automobiles overturned, carports destroyed, trees uprooted. 113-157 mph Major Damage: F2 Roofs blown off homes, sheds and outbuildings demolished, mobile homes overturned. F3 158-206 mph Severe Damage: Exterior walls and roofs blown off homes. Metal buildings collapsed or are severely damaged. Forests and farmland flattened. F4 207-260 mph Devastating Damage: Few walls, if any, standing in wellMichael Clark (above) decided to set up lawn built homes. Large steel and concrete mischairs in front of his home Tuesday morning. He said siles thrown far distances. he was in the grocery store a block away when the F5 261-318 mph Incredible Damstorm hit. “It was safe there,” he said. Left: Police age: Homes leveled with all debris Chief Dean Roland talks with another officer Tuesday removed. Schools, motels, and other larger morning. In the forground is one of the three vehicles structures have considerable damage with flipped in the air near The Pour House. Below, Kevin exterior walls and roofs gone. Top stories and Luanne Swanson retrieve part of the sign to their demolished. hardware store (Jenneman's) from across town on Tuesday. – Photo by Gary King

This is all that remains of Blue Collar Sales & Service on First Avenue. Bethany Lutheran Church, right across the road, was relatively unharmed. At right, Olsen & Son Drug on Hwy., 35. – Photos by Nancy Jappe


Timbers Theatre owner Dave Anderson sweeps up Tuesday morning. The aerial shot at right, courtesy of DNR pilot Joe Sprenger, shows damage to the theatre's roof. Above, one of at least two cars that were upended by Monday's tornado. – Photos above and below by Gary King

State Patrol urges people to avoid local roads in Burnett County disaster site

Capt. Lee McMenamin of the Wisconsin State Patrol urges people to not only stay out of tornado disaster site in the village of Siren unless they have a legitimate business need, but also to please stay off the roads that were in the path of devastation south of WIS 70 towards Spooner. "The path of the tornado is about 200 400 yards wide and travels just south of WIS 70 towards Spooner," he added. "I urge people to stay out of this disaster area and off the county and town roads hit by the tornado. There are law enforcement officers trying to protect the public out there, and electricians from the power company trying to remove debris and restore power. Crowding the area to view the devastation just frustrates the workers and hampers how fast the work can be done. "Curiosity is natural, but I strongly urge people to stay out of the disaster area unless you have an urgent, legitimate need to be there. Please accept

our appreciation for this courtesy." WIS 35/70 through the village of Siren is closed for at least the next 48 hours due to damage and debris caused by a tornado on Monday night. Through traffic is detoured on Old WIS 35 and Airport Road.

Optometrist offers help

The Jacobson Eye Health Care Clinics of Frederic, St. Croix Falls and Cumberland would like to offer their services at this time of crisis. They will replace or repair any glasses or contact lenses which were lost or damaged in the recent tornado at no charge. This offer is extended to patients and nonpatients alike.

These sturdy power lines on Range Line Road in Falun were knocked over or even snapped in half by the strong winds of the storm. Because lines were down all over the county, many residents were left without pwoer and some are still waiting for theirs to be restored. – Photo by Jill Hoel

The east wall and roff of the Siren Hotel at the corner of Main and Hanson streets in Siren were missing after the tornado struck the village. The lower level of this building, owner by Rudy Mothes, had housed Harlan Pygman's vacuum repir business for many years. The upper level of the building was rented out as apartments. At right, the Siren Furniture Store was one of the hardest hit businesses on Min Street. – Photos by Nancy Jappe


Open just a year this past May, The Shops at The Lodge complex, owned by Jeff and Karen Howe, was left in shambles by Monday's tornado. The complex included The Syren General Store, operated by the Howes, The Chattering Squirrel Cafe, Studio Works and Sentiments by Hannah Mae. The photo above shows the entrances to the complex. – Aerial photo courtesy of DNR pilot Joe Sprenger. Other photos by Gary King

Company specializes in disaster recovery

Volunteers needed now

SIREN – Kieger Enterprises, Inc., a company that specializes in helping communities get back on their feet following disasters, will be helping Siren recover from the tornado that struck Monday.

Kieger is a nation-wide disaster recovery company that did work last year in 18 states. It will employ 30 of its own workers, flying people up from hurricane relief in Houston and will use as many local volunteers and contractors as possible to keep costs down and to keep money in the community, noted Patrick Iwan, a spokesperson for the company. The cost of the project will most likely be paid by FEMA and is based n a predetermined rate before a disaster,

based on time and material. The cleanup bill in St. Peter, Minn., which also suffered an F3 tornado, ran well over $1 million and Kieger was there all that summer. Kieger donated its time Monday evening and throughout the recovery process will donate any overtime hours, Iwan stated. Volunteers will be removing debris from boulevards. Residents are asked to put their debris in three piles on the boulevard. Vegetation will be chipped

and demolition debris will be shipped to a waste management landfill in Burce. Volunteers are needed through this weekend, especially in the next several days. Persons may call the informationline at 715-349-2171. Volunteers should check in at the Burnett County Government Center north of Siren on Hwy. 35 and come appropriately dressed with work boots and gloves. They will be bussed to sites in town.

Mudhen Lake was hit hard by Monday's tornado. The aerial shot, courtesy of DNR pilot Joe Sprenger, and the photos at right, show the same location. At left is another lake home that was severely damaged by the 200 mile-per-hour winds. – Photos at left and upper right by Gary King

Hanging on/from page 1


them were rescued, alive, by volunteer firefighters and other personnel on the scene.

DQ blizzard In case of severe storm, the owners of the Siren Dairy Queen, a new business that the Boyer family had opened earlier this year, were advised to take shelter in the freezer. For some reason, they headed for the refrigerator instead. The freezer was history after the tornado struck; the refrigerator and its occupants were intact and unharmed. “We can rebuild. Nobody was hurt,” said Kara (Boyer) Alden, one of the owners. Her brother, Kent Boyer, didn’t quite make it into the refrigerator. He was able to escape injury by hanging onto the door. Historic home The house owned by Paul Riemer and his family on Works Progress Street made history a couple years ago when Gov. Tommy Thompson signed three bills into law on their front lawn. After the tornado hit, the Riemers couldn’t even get up to their front door because of the trees that were down all over the lawn. Only one area of the house, the bedroom, escaped total destruction. The Riemers, as well as others who had lost their homes, spent the night on cots at Siren High School. “It was surprising how fast it all happened,” Paul said. “In about three to four minutes,” his wife added.

Back to school Jamie Mier lives in a house on Third Avenue. He and two friends, Lori Dake and Chris Cameron, went to Frederic to bowl before the storm hit. “When I came to town, I was devastated,” Mier said. “I have lived in town for 20 years and have never seen anything like this before.” Mier spent Monday night on a cot in the Siren High School gym. He hadn’t been back to his house and didn’t know how much he would find left of it when he was allowed to see it the next morning. David Lunceford, who lives on Old Highway 35, was out in the rain which came at least a half-hour after the tornado struck, directing people away from the tree that fell across the road and onto his house. “We don’t need this,” the dripping-wet Lunceford said. He was the only one of his family home at the time the tornado hit and spent the night at the high school.

George Miller, who was also at the high school for the night, had a sling around his left arm. Miller was heading for safety in the bathroom of his house on Alden Road when the storm hit. As he reached to get his cat, he was picked up and slammed against the wall, injuring his arm.

Volunteers Volunteers came from all over to see what they could do to help, from Clayton to Rice Lake to Superior and to Pine City, Minn. Food donations came in as tree cutting and removing and the cleanup began. Pastors and chaplains were quick to offer their services as people started to deal with the shock they were feeling. The damage extended east from Siren to Spooner where it eventually ran out of steam. Burnett County Deputy Steve Sacharski was on duty when the storm hit. Sacharski reported that the Dewey Town Hall was gone and that the house next door to it had been damaged. The maintenance shop owned by the Town of LaFollette crushed down upon the trucks and grader stored there. “You could see the trucks inside,” Sacharski commented.

Pine odor Personal stories will be told for a long time as people rebuild their lives, homes and businesses. The good thing was the relatively low loss of life for the destruction that was wrought, and the few injuries, other than bruises and scratches that people sustained in an area that has been described as looking like a “war zone.” Because of the loss of so many trees, driving around the area Monday night was tricky businesses. However, if you opened the window of the vehicle, you could smell the prevalent odor of pine coming from all the pine trees that had come down upon the roads. “The beauty that was Siren is gone,” commented Siren Police Chief Dean Roland. That comment applies to the area all around Siren as well, during this night that will go down in the history books.

Why me? Joe and Terri Simon were surrounded by friends and family Tuesday morning who were helping the family after their home on Church Street outside of Falun was basically destroyed by the tornado that hit the Burnett County area Monday night. While surveying the damage to her

house, Terri paused and said, “Sometimes you just have to say ‘Why me?’” Terri remembers sitting in the living room of their house watching the storm roll in and then suddenly realizing the seriousness of the situation. She told her kids, “Hit the basement!” She said that the family made it into their basement seconds before the tornado ripped through their house. She wasn’t sure of the time because their power had been going on and off for a while, but she guessed that it was around 8:15. When they finally came upstairs, all four walls of the house were gone and their belongings had been strewn all over their property. The garage that once stood next to the house was completely gone and pieces of it were scattered throughout a field behind the house. All three of their vehicles received damage and the family was waiting to hear from their insurance agency. A chicken coop behind the house was also missing although the most of the chickens were wandering around the yard. The family’s two dogs had been outside during the storm and one was found afterwards tangled up in its chain in a tree near the house. Angie Campeau, a friend of the family, said that she had gotten to the house early in the morning to help however she could. She began by searching for important pictures and papers that were blown all over the property. She said, “We don’t even really know where to start.”

Livestock casualties John Meyer’s farm on Church Street, just north of Falun was hit by the storm as well. Fortunately, there was little damage to his house, but his barn couldn’t stand up to the strong winds and forceful weather. Hay bales that had been strewn from a nearby field into the front yard and fallen trees indicated how powerful the wind actually was. The fallen trees that were blocking the road were quickly cleared last night after the storm hit as neighbors and friends came by car and four-wheeler to help free the livestock that were stuck in the barn. Despite the efforts of many, some of the cows were killed when the barn collapsed and some were injured and had to be shot. Clean-up continued late into the night and also this morning. Chad Doornink, who was one of many who came to help the family, arrived early at about 4:45 a.m. to do what he could to help.

Lucky Rhonda Peterson was in Turtle Lake when the storm passed through Burnett County, so she was unaware of the damage that it had caused. As she returned home and neared closer to Falun, she saw the path of destruction that the storm had left and began to worry about her own trailer home and garage. Her fears were put to rest when she saw that her home had received no major damage. Her garage was also in good shape, aside from the tailgate that had been ripped off of the truck that was parked in it and then deposited in the yard about 100 yards away. Other than having to clear the trees that had fallen in her driveway, she felt that she had been lucky. She had heard about her neighbor John Meyer’s collapsed barn and said that some of his surviving cows had wandered over to her house. Restroom rescue A witness was interviewed at the Grantsburg Amoco after the storm had hit Siren. He said he had just left Siren and was a survivor of the tornado. The man was driving through Siren and stopped at the Auto Stop gas station when the storm began. He took shelter in one of the bathrooms with five other people and had to quickly relocate to the other bathroom when they realized that their first choice for shelter was not safe. He stayed in the bathroom for about half an hour until it was safe to come out. Without comprehending what had just happened, he opened the door and walked out into the gas station and found that everything was in ruins. He said that the only part that hadn’t been destroyed was the bathroom that they had been in.

Mudhen Lake area Camp Ojibway, which is located on Mud Hen Lake, received devastating damage last night when the storm passed through. Parts of the ceiling and walls of the main building were ripped off and debris was scattered all over the camp grounds. The waterfront area was destroyed and canoes were thrown from one end of the camp to another. The approximately 52 campers were evacuated by bus last night and safely returned home. Many of their belongings were left in the camp and were buried in the rubble. The camp was one of the many properties on northern end of Mud Hen Lake that were wiped out by the storm.

The office was open Tuesday – wide open – as cleanup efforts continued the day after the Siren tornado tore away the Re-Max Realty builting. – Photo by Katie Blake

Special Section | May 5 | 2011  

Special section covering the Siren tornado of June 18, 2001

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