Cleanup effort shows progress
Thirty-four heavy trucks and countless chain saws made a dent Saturday in the tornado cleanup here.
Crews focused initial efforts on removing downed trees and branches, which block roadways and access to many homes in the aftermath of Thursday's tornado.
"It's amazing how quick things are getting cleaned up," said resident Randy Taggart. "It's neighbors helping neighbors."
Officials asked residents for their patience as they continue restricting access to the hardest-hit southwest corner to give crews space to work.
Power was still out in some areas, but expected to be restored in one to two days.
Mayor Wayne Wolden worked to keep spirits up during a public meeting Saturday afternoon, where several homeowners expressed frustrations about the limited access to their homes.
"A little inconvenience is needed right now," Wolden said. "We have people in our town who are trying to keep us safe."
Earlier Saturday, Wolden took Sen. Amy Klobuchar on a tour of Wadena, focusing on the high school, the community center, Leaf River Ag Service and some residential areas.
She marveled at a crumpled tin ball in front of the school that once was the roof of an adjacent building.
"It is just absolutely a gift from God that more people weren't hurt or killed," Klobuchar said.
By seeing the devastation firsthand, Klobuchar said she can better relay the need for federal support.
Structural engineers began examining the severely damaged high school and will have a report on Monday, said Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom.
Engineer Vladimir Scheglowski said the building is unstable and spotters would monitor it from the outside while engineers were inside.
Nearby, the roof of Minnesota State Community and Technical College is severely damaged, said Wolden, who works at the college.
The system chancellor will tour it this morning.
The college will be closed Monday and Tuesday and classes relocated, Wolden said.
Officials urged residents to stay safe, particularly around dangerous equipment.
In addition to the 34 storm-related injuries, seven people have been treated for injuries such as chain saw accidents, lacerations from falling debris and wounds from stepping on nails, said Joel Beiswenger, CEO of Tri-County Hospital.
Wadena Police Chief Bruce Uselman said there have been reports of looting and one individual was arrested for obstruction after he took off running from officers.
Officials cautioned residents about scam contractors. Sheriff Michael Carr said one woman lost money when she paid a private contractor a downpayment.
Another public meeting will be held at 3 p.m. today at St. Ann's Catholic Church to get information to residents.
Forty National Guard members and several law enforcement agencies from around the region continue to patrol homes and provide assistance.
Volunteers with the Salvation Army from Cass and Clay counties have been in Wadena since three hours after the tornado, providing water, sandwiches, cleaning supplies and the occasional hug.
"We're doing sidewalk stress management," said Steve Carbno, disaster coordinator.
The Red Cross was in Wadena Saturday and will ramp up its efforts today. Mental health teams will go door to door to provide counseling.
"I was amazed as to how quick help came from all over," said resident Carrol Hotakainen, surveying the damage to her home for the first time Saturday.
Carbno, who's provided disaster assistance around the country, said some areas of Wadena remind him of Greensburg, Kan., a tornado that leveled much of the town in 2007.
Yet, Wadena residents' mood remained positive Saturday as they focused on cleaning up.
"The resolve we see here is just phenomenal," Carbno said.