Barneveld, WI Tornado, Jun 1984 - Trucks Haul Away a Village


By Paul Bargren
of the Journal Staff

Barneveld, Wis. - The tornado that demolished most of Barneveld came with no more warning than a thunderclap.

Residents said the tornado swept down the village's half-mile long main street almost before they knew that they had been hit.

Clinton Roberts, 57, said, "I woke up and heard the storm. By the time I made it to the basement, it was over." Roberts and his wife, Hazel, lived on the north side of the village where houses were damaged only a little.

But Tom auger, 30, his wife, Katy Jo, 24, and son, Shannon, 3 lived on the main street, Iowa County Highway PD.

They were all in bed on the third floor of their home when the tornado hit about 1 a.m. "The house just crashed, and we just held onto each other until we stopped." The Maugers landed 50 feet from their home under a pile of rubble.

"It took us 10 minutes to dig our way out," Tom Mauger said. "We dug our way through the mud to get out." Their house was completely blown off the foundation and turned into a pile of rubble. Mauger's pickup truck, which had been parked behind the house, was lofted by the storm and came to rest in the basement.

Despite it all, the Maugers got away with only a few scratches.

Mauger surveyed the damage and said, "I don't know how lucky we are, but I guess we're lucky to be alive."

Richard Ehlert, 47, works as a police officer both for the village and for Iowa County.

When the storm hit, he was in the hallway of his house answering the telephone at about the same time that lightning set off a fire alarm. His wife Ruth was heading for the basement.

The house crashed down around Ehlert, but he, too, received only cuts and scrapes. Friday morning, Ehlert's sons, Bryon, 26, and Todd, 22, drove over from their home in Arena to help sort through the debris. In the middle of what had been the family living room was a neighbor's refrigerator.

Up and down the village's main street it was the same story. The tornado destroyed virtually every business in the village and demolished about half of the homes. Many of the homes that remain appear to have serious damage.

One insurer, American Family Insurance, said it calculated that structures it insured were worth $1.5 million.

William Roberts, 56, just as his brother Clinton, grew up in the village. "I've never seen one like this; one that took the whole town," William Roberts said. "There was some lightning and thunder, and then an awful roar. It just came like right now." The Robertses' mother, Pearl, 78, apparently was still in bed when the storm collapesed her home. Rescuers dug her out, and she was taken to a hospital but apparently is not seriously injured, her sons said. Clinton pointed out the house. "It's the one where they're pulling the car out of the living room," he said.

Dan Williams, 49, another lifelong Barneveld resident, looked up and down the main street and said simply, "There's no village."

Residents were evacuated from the village early Friday morning to allow construction crews with huge bulldozers to push debris aside and to clear streets.

Pile after pile of rubble, timber and debris was loaded. The village was hauled off in dump trucks. In the middle of the confusion were the two portable toilets for the workers to use.

Red Cross workers, members of the National Guard, deputies and police from all surrounding departments were also on hand to guard the village and to help residents.

Barneveld sits on top of one of the rolling hills of Iowa County and the tornado appeared to have swept down the crest of that hill. From a mile away, the village resembled nothing more than pictures of bombed out villages from World War II.

Many trees were blown onto houses. Trees that were still standing had been stripped of their leaves.

The small Catholic church at the east end of the business district was blown off its foundation. The floor of the church was still in one large piece, it had been shifted 10 or 15 feet away and now tipped down into the basement. The heavy oak pews had been torn apart, the ends of the pews pulled off and the bench seats blown to the wind.

Five Barneveld Fire Department trucks were trapped in the garage of the fire department building next to the Catholic church. The garage collapesd around the trucks. A heavy brick mantle was deposited neatly on each of three of the five trucks, right where the windshields should have been.

A new car from Iowa County Chrysler, a block away, had been blown to the front of the garage, landing on its side. Late Friday morning, a seat belt warning beeper inside the car was still buzzing away.

On a hill a block east of the fire department, silhoutted agains the now sunny sky, was the brick bell tower that was all that remained of the Barneveld Lutheran Church, built in 1974.

In between are the foundations of 14 homes that had formed Thoni subdivision, a new development that was hardest hit by the storm.

Here, there were not even piles of rubble, only the bare foundations. The houses had been blown away; nothing was left.

Nothing, that is, except for one house, only two doors from where at least two people were reported killed. That house still stood with only minor damage to the side of it.

The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI 9 Jun 1984