Mankato and Wells, MN Tornado, Aug 1946
Wells Citizens Digging Out After $2 Million Tornado
Martial Law Ends At 4 p. m. Today
“Business as Usual” signs were appearing on the boarded-up fronts of Wells store buildings this morning, but everyone knew it would still be a long time before anything could be “as usual” in Wells – the 2,400 population town that took the brunt of one of the most damaging tornadoes to visit this section of the state in recent years.
Wells will be released from martial law at 4 o'clock this afternoon, it was announced. State Guard units from Albert Lea, Austin, Fairmont and Jackson have been on duty since early Sunday morning. They have been quartered at the high school.
Checking up on the tornado score this morning, Mayor GLEN UGGEN said that a total of 125 residences and business buildings over an area of 23 city blocks had been wrecked by Saturday evening's storm.
Mayor UGGEN estimated total damage at $1,500,000. MANVILLE ORAN, former mayor, placed the figure at $2,500,000.
This morning, it was said that 75 percent of the town had been reconnected for electricity and that by nightfall it would be 90 percent. However, the power will not be turned on again until tomorrow sometime. It was turned off just as the storm struck Saturday night by ELWIN HICKS and FRED LEIBER – the latter being the plant manager. By shitting off the power, it is believed numerous fires were prevented.
Today the work of clearing away the wreckage continued, with large crews or farmers on hand to help. Many farmers brought their tractors to help “push and pull.” Neighboring towns also sent help. Blue Earth sent its entire street department and equipment. All of Faribault county's highway construction and maintenance equipment was put at the disposal of Wells officials.
Grocery stores were operating today on a more nearly normal basis than any others. The city water and sewer systems were working all right.
Path of Tornado
Saturday night's tornado cut a 200-yard path diagonally through Wells, starting near the CHRIS WEBBER farm a mile to the west and vanishing on the other side of town where it destroyed the new garage of JOSEPH ERB, damaged the Anderson Lumber and Franks Elevator buildings.
At the WEBBER farm the tornado wrecked a barn and other outbuildings, it moved on to the “Spindletop” section where two or three houses were demolished. Then it skipped to the Lincoln avenue area where it tore large sections of the roof from St. Casimir's Catholic church, damaged the nearby Priest's house and parochial school. Huge trees in the Lincoln and Washington avenue areas were blown down, thrown across streets and against homes.
The storm moved relentlessly forward to the heart of the business section, wrecking stores, cars and windows with great abandon, filling the streets with wreckage.
Then it made its exit by way of the Musser buildings the nearby lumber sheds and the Franks Brothers elevator.
Fifty at Church Service
About fifty persons were present at a confessional service in St. Casimir's church when the storm struck. One of them said later as the tornado approached “nobody said anything, but everybody made for the basement.” When they returned to the auditorium of the church a few minutes later they found two large sections of the roof and some smaller ones missing. The floor and pews were strewn with bits of plaster, broken glass, bricks and shattered wood.
The largest assemblage in the path of the tornado was that at the State theater where about 200 persons were gathered. It was here that Patrolman GORDON DANKS and WILLIAM HEATH, theater manager, succeeded in keeping the crowd calm when the roof over the stage suddenly lifted and vanished. The two men prevented theater patrons from rushing into the street which was then filled with flying debris.
Storm Struck at 8 P. M.
The tornado hit Wells just a few minutes before 8 o'clock, or about an hour after a similar tornado had killed seven and injured many others at a tourist camp near Mankato.
Saturday night is shopping night at Wells, stores were open and there were crowds in the streets. It was believed that the hail and rain which tell shortly before the tornado struck saved the lives of many shoppers.
The hail had begun about 7:40 p. m., it was recalled. The stones that fell were few, but they were large. They drove people off the street and out of parked cars. The shoppers sought refuge inside the stores, and the rain, which immediately followed the hail kept them there. Then, it seemed, during the eerie moments before the tornado struck, everybody instinctively ducked for cellars and basements.
Said one Wells man afterwards, “A lot of us were sure glad we hadn't built ourselves and of these new fangled houses without basements.”
Store Buildings Wrecked
Damaged probably beyond repair was the 100 x 150 K. of C. building at Broadway and Market street. The entire roof of the two story brick structure was blown away, the west and north walls lost large sections. The building houses the De Luxe cafe on the Market street side, and the Weide drug store, Schutte hardware, Segar bakery and J. C. Penney & Co., fronting on Broadway. All of the display windows were wrecked, and goods and furnishings inside the stores were damaged. On its second floor the K. of C. building housed offices, a dance hall and apartments. The dance hall was not being used Saturday. No body was hurt in the apartments. The offices were left roofless and without walls, and contents were no doubt strewn far and wide.