Barneveld, WI Tornado, Jun 1984 - Sunday No Day of Rest


By Bronwyn Williams
of The Journal Staff

Barneveld, Wis. - It was a Sunday here that didn't feel like a Sunday.

While nearby, in Mount Horeb and Dodgeville, parents in light summer clothes led children to church and talked of sunny afternoon picnics, families in Barneveld worshiped briefly in the debris and then silently turned to clean up what had been their homes and to try to face the realities of a shattered future.

With a stack of used truck tires and drums of rusted scrap metal as a backdrop at the Red Cross center, Salvation Army envoy Jim Kennedy of La Crosse played the guitar and read Bible verses.

"Lord, we sense the needs of so many in this community. The demands have been so much and they bear such heavy burdens," Kennedy said.

He said the people of Barneveld could rebuild if they had faith.

Despite the grief at the deaths of nine people the community was holding together, Kennedy said.

Elsewhere in the small community, the eerie quiet was interrupted only by the sound of gusting wind and the buzz of chainsaws cutting through the wreckage - wreckage left by a Friday-morning tornado that also injured hundreds and virtually leveled this Iowa County town of 600.

US Sen. Robert W. asten (R-Wis.), in Barneveld Sunday to inspect the damage, said he was sure that the town would qualify for federal disaster relief.

But the promise of future federal dollars was of little solace Sunday, as the initial shock of the disaster began to fade into the brutal realization of the long, costly road to recovery.

Duaine Kirschbaum, 38, looked at his house with a mixture of frustration and relief. He had been fortunate. Some of his walls and most of his posessions were intact. Still, his roof and some walls were gone and the remaining walls had huge cracks.

"We built this house seven years ago. We'll probably rebuild here, but you've got to wonder about rebuilding in the path of a tornado," he said.

Up the hill from Kirschbaum, however, Carl Arneson, 54, said he figured that the odds were now on his side.

"Safe for Awhile"

"You never felt Barneveld would be subject to a tornado, but now that one has hit, we'll probably be safe for awhile," he said.

Arneson said that he and his wife Lois, 52, probably would rebuild.

"My wife tells me this is the most perfect lot in town. Absolutely, we will rebuild."

Like Arneson, most people in Barneveld Sunday seemed ambivalent about their fate. Thankful that they hadn't been killed or hurt, many worked in silence, not quite believing the magnitude of the loss. They stopped the clearing of boards and bricks only long enough to look around at the devastation, shake their heads and then reach for another board.

Some people were getting by with a grim sense of humor.

One man, lucky enough to have a lawn and a mower, was spotted mowing his lawn Sunday morning.

Another house owner had spray-painted a sign on the remains of his house that said: "For sale. Open house, no key needed."

Pyschological support

Ann Haglund, manager of Emergency Services for the Unified Counseling Services of Grant and Iowa Counties, said that so far shock had kept most psychological problems at bay.

"Most people are still denying the enormity of this," she said at the Red Cross center in Barneveld. "We are trying to provide people with a chance to deal with this and to provide a support structure that will deal with future problems."

Haglund said that most emotional problems would appear in the weeks and months to come.

"When people settle in new places, or still don't have jobs and the Red Cross is gone, then we will see more depression, more alcoholism and we'll try to be there," she said.

She said that programs had been given to rescue workers as to how to deal with victims and that programs were being planned to help town residents, particularly children.

Haglund said the emotional needs of children often were overlooked in the aftermath of disasters.

Kirschbaum said the tornado had been hardest emotionally on his children. He has a son, 10, and a daughter, 7.

"My wife and I are willing to come back, but the children don't want to move back. They're scared and I can't blame them," he said.

But, Haglund said, Barneveld was fortunate in being a closeknit town in which residents were used to pulling together.

Town pulls together

Craig Widener, Red Cross director of emergency operations in Barneveld, said that at least 60 volunteers had arrived in Barneveld Sunday to help with the cleanup.

Electricity had been restored to most of the town Sunday, as had water service. However, residents were still being cautioned to boil their water.

Widener said that the Red Cross was now concentrating its efforts on feeding people and trying to determine all victims' food, clothing and shelter needs.

Albert Miller, 70, a retired Barneveld municipal worker, was not surprised at the outpouring of help.

"We're a very close town, and we've had just wonderful help from all over," he said.

But for Miller, and his wife Lilas, who lost most of the second story of their home, the aid was not enough to ease the pain.

"The insurance paid some to us, but unless we get some help to rebuild we'll be broke. And I'm too old to start up [working again]."

He choked back a tear and rubbed his eyes under his sunglasses.

"I've had quite a few experiences in my life, but never anything like this.

"I hope to God I never live to see another one."

The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI 10 Jun 1984