Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

After a natural disaster…the fear, the loss and reaching out to help April 29, 2011

I COULD WHINE, moan and grumble all day about the recent weather here in Minnesota. Rain. Cold. Snow showers. More rain and more cold. The cycle never ends.

But then I pick up today’s newspaper, turn on the television, switch on the radio or go online and my mouth clams. I have nothing, nothing, about which to complain.

I have not lost my home, my possessions, my business, my community, family or friends to killer tornadoes like those in Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia. Wednesday’s storms have been termed “the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in nearly 40 years.”

To view the devastation, to hear the survivors, to even think about the utter destruction brings me to tears. I cannot fathom, do not want to fathom, such total devastation, loss of life and injury.

Tornadoes scare the h double hockey sticks out of me. I can trace that fear back to the June 13, 1968, tornado in Tracy, about 25 miles from my childhood home. I was an impressionable 11 ½-year-old when the tornado raced through this southwestern Minnesota farming community, killing nine. My family drove to Tracy, saw the flattened homes, the pick-up stix jumbled trees, the boxcars tossed aside like dropped toys. You don’t forget memorable images like that.

Decades later a tornado struck my childhood farm, damaging a silo and silo room, tossing farm wagons effortlessly about in the field. Those images, too, remain forever imprinted upon my memory.

Last week I saw snapped trees and minor damage to buildings along Wisconsin Highway 21 near Arkdale, which was struck by an April 10 tornado.

A view of storm damage to trees while traveling along Wisconsin Highway 21 west of Arkdale.

A felled tree by an apparently untouched home in Arkdale, Wisconsin.

In the distance, trees were damaged by a tornado that cut a 17-mile path from Arkdale to near Coleman in Wisconsin on April 10.

Less than a year ago, on June 17, 2010, a tornado outbreak swept through Minnesota, killing one person in Mentor in Polk County, another in Almora in Otter Tail County and the third near Albert Lea in Freeborn County.

How many of us have already forgotten about those tornadoes as we move on to the next natural disaster news story?

Yet, for those personally affected, the story never really ends. The chapters continue with the rebuilding of homes and lives, the haunting nightmares, the emotional aftershocks. Lives have been forever rewritten.

Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Fires. Floods.

Survivors manage to pull their lives back together with the help of family, friends, neighbors and even strangers.

After a flash flood devastated Hammond in southeastern Minnesota last September, a group of Dakota County Technical College architectural technology students reached out.  They’ve worked with Hammond resident Judy Johnson in drafting remodeling plan options for her damaged home. You can read their story by clicking here. These students represent the good that emerges from the bad, the spirit of giving that makes me proud to be a Minnesotan.

I’ve followed the situation in Hammond since visiting that community shortly after the flood. I haven’t lifted a hammer to assist with recovery there. Rather, I’ve used the one tool that I possess—my words. I’ve crafted words into stories that I hope are making a difference. After reading my blog posts, two groups of volunteers have gone to help in Hammond.

That’s what it takes, each of us using our resources—whether that be words or money or skills or whatever—to help our neighbors in need.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “After a natural disaster…the fear, the loss and reaching out to help”

  1. Bernie Says:

    The whole tornado thing in the south and even up north is scary. To think that in a blink of an eye, you can loose everything. Family, pets, possessions. Then you see the pictures, such as that house you posted, where one thing is left alone. Those are the pictures that chill me to the bone.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      The photos I posted from Arkdale, Wi., really show minimal damage. I think most of the damage was to the north and east. But even losing a tree or a hole punched in a roof can be unsettling.

  2. Tina Marlowe Says:

    My heart goes out to the tornado survivors down south. I have a pretty good idea what they are going through, and my heart cries for them!!! In some little way, it makes our flood in the valley seem in some way not so bad. Devastation is devastation however, 1 home or 10, lives lost or possesions lost – you realize your vunerability in one split second. I heard a man from Alabama who lost his home to the tornado say that he has always been a self-sufficient man who believes in working hard for his dollar and has never depended on anyone to take care of him and his family….. and now he has to rely on EVERYONE FOR EVERYTHING. I know that feeling. You quickly realize it DOES TAKE A VILLAGE indeed. We all need each other and none of us can survive alone. Peace and prayers to all!

  3. virgil Says:

    Shows us once again that there is nothing that we can hold onto forever in this world except out faith and Easter hope.

  4. vicki Says:

    Another good read. Thank you for your help getting help to Hammond. Seeing the devastation down South is just so sad. They need so much, it boggles my mind. Thank God for all of the churches and the Red Cross and generous families and strangers alike. That’s the only way they’ll get through.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Vicki. Like you said, and I said, we all need to help one another in times of need.

  5. Milo Larson Says:

    Hi Audrey, I moved to Walnut Grove in July of 68′ and saw what it did to Tracy, sure put the fear of bad weather in me since also. The winter wasn’t much better with all the snow storms. Never saw snow like that year.
    I lived through a tornado in 65′ in Ellendale, saw it coming a mile away taking an old abandoned barn, by the time we got to the cellar it took a whole grove of trees and many landed on the house which started to lift but the trees put the house back down and by the time we hit the first steps in the cellar it was all done. If not for the trees I wouldn’t be writing this.
    Funny back then because it was a barn that got taken away they got all the attention then our whole grove of trees we had to clear consisting of about 3 acres in and around our homestead.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, my, yours is a frightening story about the tornado lifting your house as you attempted to seek shelter in the cellar. I really do have a healthy respect for storms of any sort.

      I agree with you that snowstorms on the prairie are memorable, certainly unlike any we experience here in the Faribault area.

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