Eyewitness recounts Wadena tornado touchdown
An eyewitness to Thursday's tornado touchdown in the city of Wadena counts himself lucky to be alive after a debris-filled, swirling funnel cloud passed directly over his head.
Kyle Davis, an Ottertail resident and employee with Davis Appraisals in Wadena, arrived at John's Car Care Center to pick up his vehicle. As he pulled up to the automotive shop around 5 p.m., Davis said it started hailing, with the winds picking up quickly. As he started running toward his car to head back to the office, Davis was instantly halted by the strange cloud formation circling above him.
"I looked up and saw that the funnel cloud was right above me, with debris flying around," Davis said. He described the debris as metal shrapnel, vinyl siding, branches, and shingles. "That's when I said, 'I'm not going anywhere. I'm going back in the shop.'"
For the next 15 minutes, Davis waited out the storm in the safety of the shop. John's Car Care is located on the eastern side of town, which was spared much of the damage the southwestern portion of the city encountered.
The extent of damage done to the city is still being investigated, with people calling in reports of homes missing roofs, downed trees, impassable roadways, overturned vehicles, and gas leaks. A rare Tornado Emergency was issued for the Wadena area after confirmed tornados touched down near Wadena, Bluffton, Sebeka and Nimrod.
"People just seemed bewildered," Davis says of the response he saw in the hour following the tornado's destructive path through Wadena. "There were a bunch of people just walking down the streets. A lot of homeowners were just sitting outside with their hands covering their face. One out of every ten houses would have a "go get 'em" sort of person out there with their chainsaw starting to clean up already."
What is assumed to have been a tornado touchdown occurred hours after the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for a large portion of Minnesota until 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 17.
"I was born in, raised in, and grew up in Wadena and there's never been a tornado. When I heard the sirens I just thought it would be strong wind; that nothing major would happen. When I was outside running to my car, I didn't think of all the damage that was going on at the same time. The severity of the whole thing didn't dawn on me until I saw everything when I was trying to get out of Wadena," Davis recounts.
"Normally it takes me two minutes to get out of Wadena, but it took me 20 tonight," he reports. "I couldn't get out on Highway 29 because it was blocked off. There were a lot of things just obliterated on Highway 10."
Davis reported seeing a school bus tipped over, resting on the county fairgrounds on the north side of Highway 10. "The fairgrounds itself was like a giant junkyard," he said.
Also hit hard were the city's community center and high school, with the extent of the damage still unknown. Wadena's Main Street was one area Davis said appeared to have been spared by the storm.