Westby, WI tornado, 3 Jul 1983

Westby loss $1.1 million

By Lee Bergquist and Robert Anthony

A major Fourth of July cleanup and repair effort was under way in Westby Monday in the wake of a tornado that caused $1.1 million damage to homes, farms and businesses.

The tornado skipped through the Vernon County community at 7:20 p.m. Sunday, disrupting telephone service and forcing a temporary shutoff of all electric service because of felled power lines. The twister moved out of the southwest and cut a swath a block to two blocks wide, authorities said.

No serious injuries were reported, but one 16-year-old girl suffered minor knee and eye injuries while in the basement of her family home as the tornado reduced the home to rubble. A firefighter also was injured when he stepped on a spike, authorities said.

The damage is Westby was but one effect of a large, fast-moving system of tornadoes and severe storms that pounded the state with heavy rains and high winds late Sunday, injuring at least 21 people. Elsewhere:

-Six people, incluing two Milwaukee-area women, were injured at the Eagle's Nest Flowage campground in Juneau County when a tornado turned over their camper, the Juneau County Sheriff's Department reported. Four were treated for minor injuries, a spokesman at Tomah Memorial Hospital said.

Two others, Margaret Lorenze, of Franklin, and Ann Hoffman of Cudahy, were taken to La Crosse Lutheran Hospital, where they were listed in fair condition Monday night.

-In Sauk County, three people were injuted when high winds overturned a trailer at Dutch Hollow Campgrounds. They were treated at St. Joseph's Hospital in Hillsboro, a hospital spokeswoman said. Two of the injured remained in the hospital overnight before being released.

-In Lake Geneva, strong winds toppled a large tent during the Lions Club Summerfest Celebration about 11 p.m., injuring at least eight people. The injured were treated for minor cuts, bruises and burns at Lakeland Hospital near Elkhorn and released.

-In Burnett County, storms damged homes and barns in Grantsburg, Trade Lake, Spirit Lake, Siren, Coomer, and Lipsett Lake, the Sheriff's Department said. A man and a woman in the Spirit Lake and Trade Lake area suffered minor injuries during a tornado. They were treated at Burnett General Hospital and released.

-Just across the state line from Polk County, a 1-year-old girl was killed when a storm blew a tree onto the trailer she was staying in with her brother, parents and grandmother four miles north of Taylor Falls, Minn., a police spokeswoman said.

Karen Mrie Schnell, of Crystal, Minn., was dead on arrival Sunday at St. Croix Falls Hosptial in Wisconsin. Her brother, Matthew, 3, was being treated at the hospital for back and neck injuries.

Their aunt, Carol Schnell, of Milwaukee, was treated for shock and released from the hospital, the spokeswoman said.

In Westby, Mayor Harold Knudtson said about $540,000 damage was sustained within the city limits while $550,000 damage occurred in outlying areas.

Knudtson said 47 buildings in the city of 1,797 people sustained damage. The Westby High School campus sustained $100,000 damage, mainly to roofing on the middle school part of the building and a garage, he said.

A 10 p.m. curfew was imposed Sunday to keep residents away from live power lines that were down in the city, he said. The curfew was lifted Monday. Restoration of power was being completed Monday night.

The National Guard patrolled city streets throughout the night Sunday night.

Knudtson said the tornado damaged three warehouses before it skipped over the 20-unit Scenic View apartment complex, causing only minor window and shingle damage. It then touched down again, flattening the single-family residence of the Arthur Larson family. Angela Larson, 16, who was home alone, managed to scrable to safety from the rubble.

"That was blown apart really," Dean Warren, Westby public works supervisor, said. He said the girl had gone into the basement after she heard the tornado warnings.

The twister also took the roof off a two-story single-family home. No one was home at the time, he said.

Knudtson said a few barns were blown over by high winds and some cattle had to be rescued from under debris.

Other Wisconsin communities spent Monday cleaning up after nature's fireworks.

At the Eagle River Municipal Airport in Vilas County, airport manager Robert Gehring said most of the damage from a Sunday morning tornado had been cleared away by Monday, and the airport was in full operation.

Damage to 13 airplanes, including two that were destroyed, was estimated at $175,000 and $200,000, he said.

Several thousand Wisconsin Electric Power Co. customers scattered throughout the state were without power during outages that began after midnight, company spokesman John Bartel said.

About 975 customers on Milwaukee's Northwest Side near N. 80th St. and W. Winfield Ave. lost service from about 12:25 a.m. to 3:25 a.m. after a tree branch snapped a power line leading from a substation at N. 60th St. and W. Douglas Ave., Bartel said.

Tuesday's forecast called for mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the low 70s, but it shoudl be cooler near Lake Michigan.

The Milwaukee Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI 5 Jul 1983