Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Faribault: The storm, the aftermath, the stories of kindness September 22, 2018

A tree fell onto these vehicles in my neighborhood during storms Thursday evening.

 

TORNADOES TERRIFY ME. So when severe weather, with the possibility of tornadoes, was forecast for southern Minnesota Thursday afternoon into evening, I felt a bit on edge. Not overly worried. But with the underlying thought that storms could happen here.

They did.

 

On the side street by my home, crews strategize the day after the storm.

 

Multiple confirmed tornadoes touched down in southern Minnesota Thursday evening, including one near Faribault. My community of some 24,000 was also hard hit by strong winds of up to 110 mph which destroyed the airport and ravaged my Willow Street/Tower Place/First Avenue Southwest neighborhood and many other neighborhoods.

 

The front page of the Faribault Daily News, September 22, 2018.

 

Two Faribault men are recovering from injuries sustained when a tree fell on them during the storm, according to a report in the Faribault Daily News.

In nearby small towns, it’s a similar story with downed trees and power lines and damage to vehicles and homes. In Morristown, though, homes were leveled and others uninhabitable.

From Granada to Cannon Falls, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms swept a swath of destruction across the landscape—demolishing farm buildings, flattening crops, downing too many trees and power lines to count.

Those stories I’ve read online and in print. The stories I’m sharing today are mine from observations and conversations. These are the stories that touched my heart, that even made me cry. But first, I’ll start with the sirens sounding and then, the storm.

 

My next-door neighbor’s flag was ripped from the pole, landing in the top of an evergreen.

 

THE STORM

It’s around 6:15 p.m. Thursday and I’ve just finished the dinner dishes. Randy is deciding whether to replace the radiator in our car or head to the basement to work on a stained glass window project for our church. He chooses the window.

He has just stepped into the shower when emergency warning sirens begin blasting. I look outside to a sky that seems anything but threatening. I switch on the TV. A tornado warning for Rice County and many other Minnesota counties scrolls across the bottom of the screen. I turn on the radio. The announcer warns listeners to seek shelter immediately with precise times the storms are expected to hit each community. Target time in Faribault is 10 minutes. I storm into the bathroom. As is typical with Randy, he shows little hurry, little concern, about the storm warning.

I already feel my anxiety rising. He did not witness the aftermath of a killer tornado that claimed nine lives and injured 125 in Tracy, Minnesota, in June 1968. I did. A tornado also hit my family farm and my hometown years after that. I grew up with a respect for tornadoes. I hope I can convince him this is serious.

As Randy showers, I close windows, gather flashlights, scoop up my camera bag and external hard drive. Within that 10-minute time frame we are in the basement with our cellphones, the radio tuned to the local station, airing its usual 6:30 p.m. reciting of the Rosary. I want local up-to-date weather news.

 

This image shows the conduit and power line ripped from our house, the wire lying across the driveway. Randy backed the van across the neighbor’s lawn to get out.

 

It doesn’t matter. Not long after, a loud bang sounds and the power goes out.

Randy continues cutting stained glass while I worry and text our daughter traveling in California. We hear and see little in our basement with two glass block windows. It’s probably better that way. But when I hear a roar, I ask whether that is rolling thunder or the signature tornado sound of a train. Randy says thunder, but not with significant confidence. Sirens continue to wail off and on for nearly 40 minutes. I’ve never heard emergency warning sirens blare that often for that long. Ever. I understand this is serious.

Our phones blast emergency alerts: Tornado Warning in this area til 7:00 PM CDT. Take shelter now. Check local media.–NWS

To say I am terrified would be accurate. I continue to text family who are keeping us updated from media accounts. We are trying to conserve our cellphone batteries with no way to charge them.

Around 7:10 p.m., we emerge from the basement to survey the damage.

 

Energy crews are working long shifts, up to 16 hours one worker said, to restore power in Faribault and neighboring towns. We were without electricity for 26 hours. Power could be out for 4 – 5 days for some people.

 

THE AFTERMATH

We are fortunate. In the last remnants of daylight, we see that the power line and meter are ripped from our house, the line slicing diagonally across our driveway behind the van. Everywhere, across our arterial street and up side streets, trees block roadways. It’s a mess.

As rain falls, we walk a half-block in the dark, my concern mounting that we could encounter fallen power lines. I don’t feel safe. Traffic is metro rush hour heavy and I wonder why the heck all these people are out and about. A man directs traffic around a fallen tree blocking a lane of Willow Street.

There is nothing we can do. Damage assessment will come at daybreak.

 

Across the street along Willow Street early Friday morning.

 

DAY BREAKS

We are up early after a restless night of little sleep. In the light of morning, we see trees down everywhere in our neighborhood. Passing by the remnants of a fallen tree, Randy points to three squirrels clinging to the trunk. They are shaking.

 

A half block from my home trees fell onto two vehicles along First Avenue Southwest.

 

Up the hill, just a half-block away, a tree lies across a car and a van in a driveway. We chat with the homeowner, who says both can be replaced. Life can’t. It’s a theme we hear repeated.

 

Across from our house along Willow Street.

 

 

Crews line Tower Place, the side street by my house, as they work all day Friday and also into Saturday.

 

A downed tree blocks First Avenue Southwest a short distance from our house at its intersection with Tower Place.

 

A young man pauses to talk to us. He’s checking on his brother. At one point during our conversation, I mention that we are conserving our cellphone power. He continues up the hill. Within 10 minutes, he approaches us as we chat with an elderly neighbor. “Here, I want you to have this,” Xavion says and hands me a cellphone charger. “God bless you.” I am crying at the kindness of this young father. He asks to pray with us. So there we are, the morning after the storm, standing in our neighbor’s front yard, the four of us circled, hands joined, Xavion praying. It will not be the first time of circled prayer. This marks a profoundly powerful moment for me, this giving of thanks by a kind stranger in the aftermath of the storm.

 

Three trees fell at my friend Lisa’s house, one against her house. This tree will be removed by professionals. Two others were removed by a friend and a crew of workers including Randy and me.

 

MORE KINDNESS

I expect many in my community could share similar stories of kindness. At Basilleos Pizza on Friday evening, Manager Connie tells us how, earlier in the day, staff baked 30 pizzas and then gave them to random people working on storm clean-up.

Saturday morning my friend Lisa’a neighbor drops off bottled water for the crew of 16 assisting with tree clean-up. Several others also bring water and another friend drops off scalloped potatoes, grapes and homemade cookies.

 

A city worker carries a chainsaw to clear a tree from a street in my neighborhood late Friday afternoon.

 

City crews clear away a tree blocking First Avenue Southwest.

 

The buzz of chainsaws is nearly constant throughout Faribault.

 

City crews continue tree clean-up.

 

An email went out the afternoon prior to show up at 9 a.m. at Lisa’s house. Three teens arrive with their dad and grandparents. A couple who live nearby also come; they’d stopped by on Friday with Klondike bars after losing power. Hours later when we’ve finished clean-up, we gather in a circle, all of us holding hands, the nearby neighbor—a pastor I would learn afterward—leading us in prayer.

 

Still working along Tower Place.

 

A shot through my dining room window of Xcel Energy crew members working on lines to reconnect to our house.

 

At the end of our driveway, workers prepare to string new power lines.

 

We have much to be thankful for. Each other. Protection. A beautiful Saturday of sunshine. Caring neighbors and co-workers and friends and strangers and professionals. It is said that difficult times bring out the best in people. I witnessed that firsthand in Faribault in the aftermath of this storm.

 

FYI: You won’t see photos of damage outside my neighborhood (except at my friend’s house) as local officials advise gawkers to stay out of storm-damaged areas.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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46 Responses to “From Faribault: The storm, the aftermath, the stories of kindness”

  1. Oh my goodness Audrey! This must have been the storm that went through our area too. No wind damage here just flooding. You are so lucky! That damage could have been much worse!

  2. Judy M Says:

    I am glad you and Randy were safe during the storm. I would have been very frightened. I hope Farmington was okay. Haven’t heard anything about the storm.

  3. Bella Says:

    oh my goodness such devastation in such a short time period and your meticulous detailing this storm makes one feel grateful to be alive with minimal losses where others weren’t so lucky. Thanks for all the insight and information

  4. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    Yes, you’ve been without power, little news. If they declare 4 tornadoes the many towns will qualify for the aid flooding usually brings. When I couldn’t have been more than 10 (early 50s), the folks drove out to see storm damage in the rural areas. I remember vividly a forlorn boy leading a cow slowly down a gravel road at dusk. A silhouette I can still imagine. Our farms don’t need storms like this. The Red Barn in Northfield is also a sad story. At first I thought it was more the west side of town, not as far east as Willow. Camp Omega got hit hard I heard. Good to watch out for the scammers. Troy Dunn seems to have the situation well in hand. More than one life miracle in so many towns. Amazing.

    • We drove along Fourth Avenue Southwest this afternoon. For about two blocks, many trees were uprooted. If you remember that avenue, it’s lined with lots of trees fronting beautiful old homes. It’s always been one of my favorite neighborhoods in Faribault.

      Yes, the scammers were out and about in full force, including a tree company that blew into town the night of the storm. As soon as they stopped at my friend Lisa’s place, my radar went up. She did not hire them, but another out-of-town firm that she checked out thoroughly. She couldn’t find a local tree company or her calls were not returned. With a tree leaning against her house, it was important to remove it ASAP. That happened today.

      We finally took a look at the tree that fell on our property. That took several hours of work to remove this afternoon. It was much bigger than we thought. We didn’t get on it right away, helping Lisa instead, because the fallen tree was on the edge of our land and not causing problems.

      • Sandra Van Erp Says:

        Yes, I remember southern heights. But Wapacuta took lookup, bigger than I remember it. The pics of big trees root balls giving way to the winds, always wonder how many storms they’ve endured in their lifetime. The squirrel story is precious. Lots of sore muscles by now I’m sure. Our family lived through straight line winds in Mahtomedi resulting in tree on house. Never forget the roar. I made a few home town calls, but was told “we got this”, watch the news instead. Contribute somewhere. I just hope the area(s) qualify for some recovery funds. Smart Lisa!

      • We are right below the hill from Wapacuta, nestled against the wooded hillside that adjoins the park. I think the hill protected us from the brunt of the wind. I am thankful the woods were not taken out by the high winds. We very easily could have had many a tree atop our house and garage. Only two large limbs broke off a neighbor’s tree and landed on our property.

        That said, the insurance agent stopped by yesterday and told me we’ll easily exceed our $1,000 deductible with the electrician’s bill.

        Both the city of Faribault and Rice County have declared states of emergencies which opens the doors to federal assistance.

  5. pkpm519 Says:

    Glad you are OK. It seems your wrist healed just in time for a “big shoot!” Take care. Emily

    • And the wrist healing just in time to pick up and cut branches, push a wheelbarrow and use a shovel. I overdid it yesterday while helping with tree clean-up at my friend’s house yesterday for several hours. Today we worked on removing a tree on our property, another several hours of work. My ortho doctor would not be happy with me.

  6. Sharon Says:

    Audrey, I know how you feel about tornadoes. I have the same type of fear or it may be called respect for tornadoes. I remember the Tracey tornado and my mom was pregnant with me when our family’s home was destroyed. I’m always the first one to seek shelter in the basement. So glad you remained safe.

  7. valeriebollinger Says:

    Grateful you and your neighbors are all ok. So are we. The storm went through our part of Northfield too. It was quick but damaging.

  8. Bernadette Says:

    I thought about you when I saw Faribault’s storm damage on the national news. So glad you and Randy are OK and that you found some positives among all the challenges.

    • Thank you, Bernadette. We finally got around to the fallen tree on our property this afternoon. Not nearly as big or a major issue as many, so we didn’t give it high priority. We worked several hours today cutting branches and dragging them to the curb for a city-wide pick-up starting October 1.

  9. Sandra Smith Says:

    Don’t know if you allow product recommendations, but…Anker power core (portable charger for electronics). Says it will charge your phone twice, we got 4 charges without running the power down to nothing. Always carry it on the road now, and keep it handy for power outages at home. We’ve had it for a year and only had to recharge once.

  10. Ruth Says:

    Somehow it feels wrong to click the “like” button but your detailed writing of this storm and the effects needs that mouth and eyes wide open, horrified. Yikes. Even the little squirrels trembling. Glad you are alive to recount the experience, Audrey. Hope the mess and damage is repaired and cleared as soon as possible. So much effort. Thinking of you from Berlin.

  11. vince2day Says:

    so sad, sending love and hope from the UK x

  12. Almost Iowa Says:

    Glad to hear you all are okay.

    It is always wonderful to hear the heartwarming tales of everyone doing what they can to clean up or support the work crews.

  13. Littlesundog Says:

    Those of us who have witnessed tornadoes and lived to tell the tales, have a great respect for this aspect of Mother Nature. I am always amazed and thankful for helping hands of all sorts of folks in the aftermath. I was especially touched (as you can imagine) that Randy pointed out the squirrels who were scared. Wildlife of all sorts is affected by storms too. I’m glad you and Randy were safe and that the powers that be got warning out in a timely manner for folks to take shelter. Every second counts.

  14. Rachel Eggleston Says:

    So glad that you and Randy are okay. The national news mentioned Faribault and you guys came immediately to mind with prayer for safety. Your story and pictures were outstanding … the stories of your neighbors and those working brought tears to my eyes a couple of times. Such power in a storm but awesome people you live among. Many blessings there.

  15. wyonne Says:

    Hi Audrey, Thanks for reliving the horrors of the approaching and attacking tornado with us! Amazing – here in Norway, there have been heavy storms, too, with red warning weather alerts particularly in the mountains. Thanks, too, for sharing the importance of praying together!

  16. Norma Says:

    Audrey, we are so very thankful for your safety during the storm Amber was here yesterday, with the rest of her now family. and told me that your electricity had been restored. Thank the dear Lord that there was no loss of life. We’ve never had anything like that here. The closest to any major disaster around here was a devastating earthquake back in the early 50’s, and it didn’t personally affect us.. God has blessed you.

  17. So glad to hear you guys are okay – was thinking about you and all my friends and family in Southern MN. My parents were lucky in sustaining no damage – riding it out in an RV too. My Aunt-in-law had no damage, but a few of her co-workers did in Northfield. My girlfriend has friends in Waterville that had damage. The tree damage is amazing – geez! Last week we had a couple of good storm fronts roll in and it was rocking and rolling here last night and put on quite the down pour and lightening show. I do not care for thunder, especially the loud, shake the house kind. The apartment complex up the street (pretty much the tallest buildings) got hit twice by lightening last week. Have to be smart and just keep to the indoors in this type of weather. Take Care

  18. Beth Ann Says:

    I am so grateful that you and Randy are safe. Tornadoes are super scary. Growing up in Ohio I had my share of tornado warnings and drills but never had one hit as close as this one. While it is very scary and frightening it also shows the goodness in humankind when they come together as you experienced. That is sometimes what makes it easy to get through situations of disaster like this. Please know that you and your community and friends continue to be in my prayers as the clean up continues.

  19. Glad that it’s now a week later (almost) and you are safe. Your community sure knows how to come together when they need to!

  20. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    I think I would have been terrified along with in the basement, such a scary time. I”m glad you and Randy are safe and hope you dont have to go through that again anytime soon.


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