Families picking up the pieces
WADENA, Minn. - As soon as Regina and Bill Weninger got to the bottom of their basement stairs late Thursday afternoon, they were hit with daylight.
A tornado lifted up their rural Bluffton home about five miles west of Wadena and left the couple huddling in the protection of a doorway.
"We stood in the doorway and hugged each other and said all we wanted was to get out alive," Regina Weninger recalled Friday.
Residents of Wadena and the surrounding areas hit by tornadoes Thursday evening were figuring out where to start Friday.
The home where the Weningers lived for 49 years and raised 10 children was completely leveled by the tornado, the property left unrecognizable.
"I'm just numb," Weninger said. "It's impossible to imagine."
Next door, the farmstead of Bill Weninger's sister and brother-in-law, Sally and Rod Rasmussen, also was totaled.
Allen Rasmussen said emergency responders were surprised his parents survived when they saw the house.
The tornado tossed a riding lawnmower and other contents from the adjacent garage into the basement where Sally and Rod sought shelter. Rod broke his leg in two spots and needed surgery Friday and Sally was treated for bumps and bruises.
Relatives came from around the region to help both families salvage snapshots, handwritten recipe cards and other irreplaceable items. Both couples had photographs that were found 15 miles away by another relative.
Son-in-law Kevin Haugrud said Sally will be happy that they found a prayer blanket she had wrapped around them, which she says helped them stay alive.
"Something had to help them when you look at that basement," Haugrud said.
'Everything is gone'
In a lot littered with indiscernible wreckage, the Kern family was forced Friday to sort through what used to be there home.
"You feel like everything is gone, things that you can't replace," Missy Kern said, adding her wedding ring was somewhere in the debris.
A volunteer dug out the couple's wedding album from the rubble.
Missy Kern was at work a few miles from her home on County Highway 20 about a mile north of Wadena. The rest of the family sought shelter at WalMart down the road as the tornado struck shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday.
They came back after the storm to find what was left.
"I was in shock. I didn't want to believe it," she said.
The wreckage of what used to be their home was tangled with their next door neighbor's home.
The Kerns' dog, Buttercup, was in her kennel when the tornado struck. The family found the kennel with its door missing Thursday night. A short time later, Buttercup came running home.
"It's a blessing she's alive," Missy Kern said.