Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Terrifying tornado tales from Minnesota June 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:22 AM
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ONE WEEK AGO TODAY, numerous tornadoes ravaged Minnesota, killing three, destroying hundreds of homes and injuring many.

This morning, thankfully, weather conditions are calm with low humidity and no indications that more storms could develop.

Even so, we Minnesotans remain unsettled, still reeling from the destruction wreaked upon this land, and upon our psyches, only seven days ago.

Memories of such devastation linger for years, if not decades. Just last night, while working on a trivia contest for an upcoming reunion, I am paging through a family history book when I come upon a story written by my Uncle Merlin, the family historian.

He writes of an F5 tornado (the most powerful) which decimated the small southwestern Minnesota farming community of Tracy on June 13, 1968, killing nine. At the time, Merlin, his wife and their two young children lived about 20 miles away just outside of Lamberton three towns directly east of Tracy along U.S. Highway 14.

My uncle had just returned home from work when the weather turned ominous. “We were watching for tornadoes as the conditions were right,” he writes. “Then to the southwest we saw it—a huge tornado. As we watched, we saw large amounts of debris lifted into the sky—we thought it hit Revere and about that time Iylene (his wife) took one-year-old Janelle and I took Ronda down into the basement. About an hour later we found out that this tornado hit Tracy causing a large amount of destruction and costing several lives.”

Reading my uncle’s story, I feel his anxiety as he rushes his young family to safety, fearing the twister is within miles of his home.

Then I flip the page of the history booklet and read of Merlin’s first tornado encounter, on today’s date—June 24—in1953 or 1954. Although only about 10 years old when a twister struck his childhood farm south of Vesta, he clearly remembers the details and that day, his sister Elvira’s wedding anniversary.

“The sky turned all kinds of colors and we kids were really scared,” my uncle remembers. “My dad and brothers were out doing the chores and milking the cows. Harold (his brother) got caught in the hog barn as it hit and my dad and one of my brothers had to hold the double doors of the barn closed on one end and two of my other brothers did the same on the other end.”

His words draw me in, placing me there in the barn with my grandfather and uncles as they hunker down, struggling against the fierce winds to hold the barn doors in place.

“There was one loud crash and then stillness,” Merlin continues. “My sister Jeanette looked out the north window of the house and shouted, ‘Mom, the whole grove is gone.’ That was really close.”

The tornado spared the house and farm buildings, but destroyed the stand of trees sheltering the farm site on the flat, open prairie of southwestern Minnesota.

Almost three decades later a twister struck nearby, on the farm where I grew up, taking down a silo, tossing wagons about in the field, ripping a railing from the house… Even though I was grown then and no longer living at home, the psychological impact of that storm still remains.

I fear tornadoes, a fear imprinted upon me after viewing the devastation wreaked upon Tracy in 1968 and then reinforced all those years later on my home farm. I sometimes dream about tornadoes.

Yet, I know my dreams, my feelings, are nothing compared to those Minnesotans who experienced the destructive tornadoes of a week ago. For them, nightmares are reality.


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© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling