"She told me she would not go down in one," Angie Woodside said Friday, a day after Kathy was killed when a tornado tossed her 200 feet from her house into a nearby field. "She just thought the whole thing would collapse on top of her. She would rather not be underneath everything."
Kathy Woodside, 66, was one of three people killed Thursday by a turbulent system that fueled twisters across Minnesota. Also killed were two northwestern Minnesota residents: Margie Schulke, 79, of Almora, whose home was destroyed by a tornado; and Wes Michaels, 58, of Mentor, whose gas station was leveled.
Dozens more were injured, including Kathy Woodside's husband, Ron, who was hospitalized Friday in Rochester. The storms damaged several hundred homes and buildings and toppled trees and power lines. The most serious damage was in the northwestern Minnesota city of Wadena, where officials reported 232 homes were hit, and in a rural area just west of Albert Lea, where about 60 rural properties saw damage.
State officials reported 39 tornado touchdowns. If that figure is confirmed, it would exceed the previous state record of 27 sightings in one day, in 1992.
More severe weather rolled through the Midwest on Friday, with hail, heavy rain and wind gusts up to 80 mph reported in Iowa and Illinois.
Residents of Wadena, a town of about 4,300 people 70 miles southeast of Fargo, N.D., were allowed back into their homes on a case-by-case basis Friday. City crews were clearing debris and lumber from the streets, and Mayor Wayne Wolden said cleanup efforts likely would not start in earnest until Saturday.
"For whatever reason, the tornado decided to sit down on Wadena," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Friday afternoon, as he toured the storm damage. Pawlenty activated 118 Minnesota National Guard soldiers to assist with security and traffic controls in the worst-hit areas.
Officials said 34 people were treated at the local hospital for storm-related injuries. Most were bumps and bruises, and by Friday morning only one person remained hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening.
But the property damage was extensive. Destruction was centered in an established neighborhood of 1940s-era homes and mature oak, pine and birch trees.
"The sad part is a lot of these were 100-year-old trees," said Doug Wolff, who returned to his property Friday to find the top part of his bungalow's roof ripped off. "They're all gone now."
The town pool was destroyed, the high school was badly damaged and a school bus yard was left with buses flipped and shredded.
The Red Cross set up a shelter at the armory, but officials said no one slept there Thursday night, opting instead to stay with family, friends or in local hotels.
Kim Guevara, of Fergus Falls, rushed to her hometown Thursday night to check on her parents. She found their home destroyed, with pieces of headstones from a nearby cemetery lying in the backyard.
"To see your childhood home just gone, it hurts," Guevara said, fighting back tears. "I got ready for my wedding in that house."
In nearby Almora, a town of about 20 people, Schulke was killed when a twister hit her home. Her husband, Norman Schulke, suffered two broken shoulders. And in Mentor, about 50 miles southeast of Grand Forks, N.D., Michaels was killed after urging his daughter and several customers into the basement of his Cenex station.
His daughter, Heidi Michaels, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that Thursday was her father's 58th birthday and he was supposed to have the day off, but came to check on the store when he heard storms were coming.
"He saved me," she told the newspaper.
In southern Minnesota, most of the damage was confined to rural areas. Fourteen people were treated at Albert Lea Medical Center for injuries.
Freeborn County administrator John Kluever said eight homes were destroyed near Geneva. Several other tiny towns, including Armstrong and Aldon, had damage. Kluever said the storms damaged grain bins, a hog feedlot and a cattle feedlot. Several hundred hogs and a few dozen cattle were being rounded up Friday, he said.
At the Woodsides' acreage, the modular farmhouse was gone and all that was left of the big white barn was a small piece of brick foundation, said Angie Woodside, who was there searching for family heirlooms.
"There's really not much to take," she said, gripping a muddy photo taken in 1972. "There's not much to salvage."