Tornado strikes near BerlinThe human toll of the tornado that struck near Berlin, N.D., Sunday night is limited to a few cuts, scraps and stitches. The destruction and potential for more severe injuries was high, according to survivors of the storm.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
RURAL LAMOURE COUNTY, N.D. — The human toll of the tornado that struck near Berlin, N.D., Sunday night is limited to a few cuts, scraps and stitches. The destruction and potential for more severe injuries was high, according to survivors of the storm.
“If we’d have went 15 seconds later or went anywhere else we wouldn’t have made it,” said Victor Weigel, whose home and farm outbuildings were leveled in the storm. “We had no real warning but the wind got weird and we headed towards the basement.”
The confirmed tornado struck at about 6:15 p.m. Sunday destroying property in a path from northwest to southeast near the northern LaMoure County town of Berlin. Unofficial reports said the storm damaged seven farmsteads although not all were occupied.
Victor and his wife, Bev, took refuge in a small utility room off the main part of the basement. The low room was next to the corner where the home’s attached garage stood. When the storm passed, the utility room was the only portion intact.
“I was on the cellphone with him when he said he was heading for the basement,” said Tony Weigel, Victor’s brother, who also farms near Berlin. “I heard a lot of scratching sounds and I thought Victor was holding the phone out a window for me to hear the hail. Then I heard Bev scream ‘Oh my God.’ Then the phone went dead.”
Victor and Tony tried to re-establish contact but the calls wouldn’t go through. When the weather cleared enough to travel, Tony and some of his family headed to his brother’s farm.
“You can’t believe the feeling we went through when we drove up,” he said. “We didn’t think they were alive.”
Victor and Bev were trapped behind collapsed debris in the small utility room, unable to escape because walls within the basement had shifted across the opening.
“It took us 20 minutes to work them free,” Tony said. “The tractors on the farm were all destroyed. We tried to pull the debris away with our pickup but it became stuck. Finally the LaMoure Game (and Fish) warden came along and the four of us pushed the debris away. I told Victor he may not want to come out.”
Victor spent Monday talking with neighbors who came to help and surveying the damage. Friends used metal detectors in the yard to recover jewelry and other small but important items including a set of keys.
“Here are the camper keys,” Victor said. “I just don’t know where the camper is.”
Other items were identifiable. The family’s minivan that had been stored in the garage had rolled over the home and ended up about 300 feet to the east of the house in a crumpled wreck. The chassis of Victor’s pickup truck was located more than a half mile away. The pickup box was found in water a few hundred yards from the home while the cab was yet to be located Monday morning.
The tornado was confirmed by John Martin, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, during a tour of the damage on Monday. He was attempting to assign a rating for the storm strength as well as its size and path.
Martin said a preliminary estimate of the rating based on initial review of some of the damaged sites placed the storm at an EF-2 or EF-3.
On the Enhanced Fujita scale, wind speeds of between 111 and 135 rate an EF-2 while winds of 136 to 165 mph would rate an EF-3.
Alethea Clark, her 17-year-old-son John and mother, Lorraine Hendricks, didn’t have time to get to the basement.
“I ended up in the kitchen when it hit,” Clark said. “I held on and waited for it to pass. Some heavy cupboards may have protected me.”
Clark ended up with a number of cuts from flying glass. She received seven stitches at Jamestown Hospital Sunday evening.
Her mother rode out the storm on the landing of the stairway between the main and second floor and was uninjured. John ended up in the basement when he was knocked down the stairs by the force of the storm.
When it cleared, the attached garage and the west wall of the home were gone along with all the windows. Also gone were 13 steel grain bins, some outbuildings and a 70-by-100 foot shop building.
The storm also took a toll on the livestock. Clark said she estimated about half of her flock of 50 sheep were killed during the storm. They also had to euthanize one dairy goat because of injuries and a horse is still missing.
The surviving sheep were moved to a neighboring farm because all the fences at the Clark residence were destroyed. Five dairy goats were placed in the basement of the damaged home as the only available shelter Sunday night.
“We need to take out the house,” Clark said. “Then we redo the basement and start over.”
For Brian and Ann Moch it was only an edge of the storm that hit their farmstead as they rode out the weather in the basement.
“Just a big whistle and my ears popped,” Brian said. “We could feel the house shift so we don’t know what kind of damage we had there.”
In the farmyard, the damage was more identifiable. The upper portion of a hip roof barn was gone along with the roofs of several outbuildings. A windmill tower erected in 1892 was also demolished.
Hip roof barns have steep sides to the roof forming a hay storage area above the main floor of the barn.
“It’s just a mess,” Brian said. “You don’t know where to start to cleanup.”
All of the Moch livestock were out to pasture away from the storm path. His hay crop wasn’t so lucky.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “Some of the hay bales are torn up and the hay carried a mile and spread about.”
Martin said the storm was originally noted as a thunderstorm near Medina Sunday afternoon. While it moved across Stutsman it veered south and formed the tornado over northern LaMoure County.
Community members visited the damaged farmsteads Monday afternoon. They could pick up little things and express condolences. The real work of cleaning up starts today after insurance appraisers have had a look.
“It’s a tough process to go through,” Victor Weigel said. “There is a lot of support. They’re all here to help but there is not much we can do yet.”