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Archive for Tuesday, September 3, 2002

Tornado wipes out much of Wisconsin town

September 3, 2002

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— A tornado Monday ripped apart a northwestern Wisconsin town, leveling a Baptist church and a gas station and injuring dozens of people, witnesses and officials said.

The tornado struck downtown Ladysmith at 4:30 p.m., the National Weather Service said. There was virtually nothing left of several downtown businesses shown in television footage.

"Most of the town is a disaster. There's buildings missing, down, torn apart everything," said Christine Wright, an employee at the Holiday Station Store, a gas station downtown. "They're shutting the town down."

Gov. Scott McCallum declared Ladysmith a disaster area and planned to visit the site today, spokesman Tim Roby said.

McCallum verbally gave the go-ahead for rescue workers to start working under the declaration Monday night and the state emergency management team was on its way to assess the damage, Roby said.

Thirty people were treated at Rusk Memorial Hospital, with 18 dismissed and the other 12 with non-life threatening injuries, said administrator Mike Shaw. He said he spoke with sheriff's deputies late Monday and was informed there had been no reports of deaths.

Ladysmith Police Chief Norm Rozak said the storm swept through two small neighborhoods and the business district in the center of the town, damaging as many as 60 homes and businesses.

Sandy Zajec, who owns a Ladysmith radio station, told KARE-TV in Minneapolis that the Baptist church and an Amoco gas station were leveled and the top floors of a motel and the fire department were ripped off.

"There was like no warning," she said. "It was just there ... right in the center of downtown Ladysmith."

Arriving in Ladysmith on the heels of emergency workers, Mike Mirr told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was grief-stricken by the sight of the town.

"The water tower blew down, hotel's wrecked, old folks home's wrecked, main street devastated. Terrible. Everything is just twisted metal," Mirr, a member of the Bruce town board, told the newspaper.

Red Cross dispatcher Kathy Nelson in nearby Eau Claire County said a four-block area of Ladysmith was destroyed, and the Red Cross was sending numerous response teams to set up emergency shelters for people who were left homeless.

An aid station was set up at a school in Bruce, about 10 miles west of Ladysmith, American Red Cross spokeswoman Jodi Oman said.

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