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Dpouble-dip Tornado Trashes Wisconsin Town

August 31, 1992

WAUTOMA, Wis. (AP) _ A double-dip tornado trashed a wide area on the outskirts of this rural town, hurling homes like litter in the wind. Two died and dozens were hurt.

Shaken homeowners salvaged belongings Sunday - or just sat and tried to let the devastation sink in. Damage was estimated at $5 million.

The tornado late Saturday cut a miles-long path of destruction, smashing rural homes and farm buildings into kindling, uprooting trees and overturning cars. It touched down at least twice.

After viewing the scene from a helicopter, Waushara County Sheriff Patrick Fox said the damage was overwhelming.

″I couldn’t begin to guess how many. It is more than we first thought,″ Fox said.

Gov. Tommy G. Thompson said 316 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Wautoma is a town of 1,600 residents.

After weathering the fierce twister, Alvin Dredske simply sat in his pickup Sunday morning, surveying the collapsed walls of his repair garage.

″I am kind of stunned. You would be too,″ he said. ″It was a pretty nice place here until last night.″

JoAnne Monty, 66, died when the tornado hurled her mobile home and garage several hundred feet into a beauty parlor parking lot.

Her husband, Lou, was in the hospital Sunday with broken bones and cuts that required 70 stitches, said their daughter, Judy, who lives in Milwaukee, about 100 miles southeast.

The Montys lived south of Wautoma in Southgate Terrace subdivision, the hardest-hit area.

″He got up to close the door and was knocked up against the wall. The next thing he knew, he was sailing through the air. He came down over there in a ditch, in the water,″ Judy Monty said, pointing to a trench 100 yards away.

An unidentified elderly man who suffered heart problems died in his home during the tornado, said Jerry Miller, Waushara County emergency government director.

Among the 30 people injured, three were hospitalized in critical condition Sunday, Miller said.

An early damage estimate put losses at $5 million, including nearly $2 million in commercial damage, he said.

Thompson flew over the tornado’s path in a helicopter and visited damaged neighborhoods - including a meeting with relatives of the woman killed by the storm. He called the destruction ″absolutely the worst I have seen.″

Federal Emergency Management Administration would be on the scene Monday to assist state and local officials in determining whether it should be declared a federal disaster area, he said.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew was ordered.

About 90 people, many of them migrant workers from Texas, spent the night in a shelter at the Waupaca High School, Fox said. Other residents left homeless had moved in with relatives and friends, said Kathy Marks, the chairwoman of the Waushara County Red Cross.

About 20 reservists from three National Guard Units helped clean up Sunday. Many streets remained blocked by torn tree branches and debris.

″We have a lot of homes that people have not been able to get back to,″ Fox said.

The tornado also damaged a United Methodist Church and a senior citizens home and flattened mobile homes in a park on the city’s southwest side.

Thousands of pine trees snapped. Large trees were uprooted and littered streets. Pink insulation blown out of homes broken apart by high winds hung on some branches.

Bob Schmidtke, 49, stood outside his flattened home, loading bedroom furniture and anything else he could salvage into a trailer. He said he went into his basement when the first weather reports indicated a possible tornado.

″I was probably down there 10 minutes. Within five minutes the power went off and in five more minutes the storm hit,″ he said.

Schmidtke said two basement windows blew out. He then heard a whistling noise. ″It was just like 500 carpenters pulling nails. The creaking and cracking. It was really unbelievable,″ he said.

The front of his house blew into the pine forests about 200 yards away.

Residents had planned to meet Monday to organize relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Andrew in southern Florida, Fox said.

″Now, I guess we’ll be getting aid up for our own area,″ he said.

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