Wayne mayor: Residents will 'come back stronger' after tornado

2013-10-05T20:00:00Z 2014-01-18T11:15:07Z Wayne mayor: Residents will 'come back stronger' after tornadoBy RILEY JOHNSON and EMILY NITCHER / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

WAYNE — Friday started as a normal, albeit cloudy, day of practice for the Wayne State College rugby teams. Then it wasn't.

A tornado swept through town, tearing roofs off houses, leveling industrial buildings, injuring residents and sweeping away a pair of trailers containing thousands of dollars worth of rugby equipment paid for by the team members.

“Everything in them is either destroyed or 30 miles in the wind. We have no clue where our stuff is,” coach Darrin Barner said. “Everything we’ve put in the team in the last 11 years vanished in 11 seconds.”

The rugby field was right in the twister's path. It spared lives and caused just a handful of injuries, but it likely  cost  Wayne and its residents millions after cutting across the largely industrial southeast side of town. The National Weather Service estimated the tornado's strength at between EF2 and EF4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which ranges from the weak EF0 to the top-of-the-scale EF5. 

The twister was one of as many as nine to hit northeast Nebraska and northwest Iowa on Friday.

On Saturday, hundreds of volunteers and emergency workers descended on Wayne to help residents, their neighbors, friends and families with the massive cleanup.

Together, they removed debris, recovered belongs and salvaged what they could from the wreckage of a storm that tossed a grain bin into a field like a tin can, snapped 50 telephone poles  and wiped out aluminum steel walls.

"They'll come back stronger than they were (Friday) morning," Wayne Mayor Ken Chamberlain said. "That's just the way they are."

The Krusemark family bought their home along Nebraska 15 south of town about two years ago and refurbished the main level, installing new carpet, replacing doors and showers, and painting walls.

“Now, today, we have nothing,” said Traci Krusemark, 39.

No carpet, showers, doors or walls. Only their basement was left intact after protecting them from the storm.

Traci, her husband, Matt, and their three daughters took cover there Friday. The girls prayed, and Matt kept the door shut, telling his wife he would hold it “till the tornado ripped it out of his hand,” she said.

The five crawled out a basement window after the storm passed, not even a scratch on them.

Providence Medical Center in Waybe treated eight people for injuries related to the storm, one of whom was taken to the hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, with a broken bone. The mayor said that man was hit by debris after getting out of his vehicle and taking cover in a ditch in the town’s industrial park, the mayor said.

That area sustained the hardest hit and accounted for much of the damage, which is sure to reach into the millions of dollars, Chamberlain said.

Pat Garvin, owner of Innovative Protectives Inc., which makes sports cushions such as pole vaulting pits, said his business was "done."

The tornado destroyed three aluminum-sided buildings and ruined about 90 percent of the main structure on his property in the industrial park. The damage will amount to at least $500,000, he guessed.

Neighboring such businesses as Pacific Coast Feather were pretty much gone, while Klaas and John Deere combines at nearby Grossenburg Implement Inc. were wrapped in sheets of aluminum steel siding.

At the airport, the loss of a single hangar and its contents was estimated at more than $1 million, the mayor said. Chamberlain said the storm destroyed two more of the airport's six buildings and damaged the other three.

“It’s hard to tell what’s left now,” he said.

During the coming days, the airport will be the dumping ground for the town’s cleanup efforts, City Manager Lowell Johnson said.

Friday's storms came the day after a tornado damaged several homes and businesses in the Hickman, Bennet and Palmyra areas in Southeast Nebraska. To the west, in the  Panhandle and parts of South Dakota, residents dug out from beneath a heavy blanket of snow.

Tornadoes — one an EF2 with a mile-wide damage path — destroyed 20 farmsteads in Iowa's Woodbury County and damaged about 60 more, the local emergency manager told The Associated Press.

Exact information on the width and length of the Wayne tornado's damage path wasn't available late Saturday.

Friday's storm downed trees around the Wayne State College campus in northeast Wayne, which otherwise appeared OK.

Dee Goeden, an 81-year-old woman who's lived south of town for some 30 years, said she lost her barn, an antique shed, a garage and a 40,000-bushel grain bin.

She was on the phone with her son when the tornado hit late Friday afternoon and weathered the storm in her basement.

She came upstairs and looked outside when the worst of it was over, she said. "I stood in the door with my mouth dropped wide open, and tears started flowing. Everything was gone," she said.

Mark Hanson, principal at Wayne High School, said his family had to crawl out of their basement, because debris from the storm covered most of their  stairway.

On Saturday, the Hansons' kitchen was exposed to the world. A neighbor's house was completely destroyed.

In nearby Dixon County, officials reported five tornado touchdowns, according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. Three farmhouses were damaged in Antelope County.

Some injuries were reported in Macy, but no fatalities.

Gov. Dave Heineman issued an emergency declaration for the Wayne area Friday night, allowing the state to send resources to help with the response effort, said Jodie Fawl, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

The American Red Cross set up shelters in Wayne and Macy.

Rick Davis, fire chief in nearby Carroll, brought 14 of his 27 volunteer firefighters to Wayne. They were among an estimated 300 firefighters responding to the disaster, just some of the legions of state and local officials providing help.

A rugby team from Storm Lake, Iowa, drove to Wayne State and helped its team pick up debris. Coach Barner said he got an email offer for help from a former player now stationed in Afghanistan.

The tornado launched the teams’ equipment — housed in a pair of 48-foot, semitrailer-shaped containers — 300 to 500 yards, breaking them apart. The 60-foot goalposts were snapped in half. And the 33-foot-wide scoreboard: still missing, along with three telephone poles it was bracketed to.

The dozens of players had paid about $1,000 each to play on the teams, which aren’t funded by Wayne State College.

The destruction is a “financial disaster for every player,” Barner said, guessing the tornado caused about $100,000 damage to the team’s equipment, grounds and gear.

But they want to keep competing. The women’s team is the defending champion in the National Small College Rugby Organization, a title its members want to defend in November, Barner said.

“I told them last night: ‘How fun would it be to win the national championship just wearing T-shirts?’”

Reach Riley Johnson at rjohnson@journalstar.com. Reach Emily Nitcher at 402-473-2657 or enitcher@journalstar.com.

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