Two years after two tornadoes
Two years ago, twin EF4 tornadoes devastated Wadena and the rural areas of east Otter Tail County. Two years later, the survivors continue to move on with their lives.
Rick and Gail Johnson of Wadena and Jim and Sandy Maloney of rural Deer Creek both had their houses totaled and moved from the foundations when the tornadoes hit June 17, 2010.
Both couples were living in their new houses in December of that same year. But after that big hurdle was crossed, some effects of the tornadoes two years ago were still left.
Jim Maloney does not see storms the same way.
"It gets easier as time goes on, but you're always on the lookout," he said. "You keep an eye on the sky."
This past Sunday night saw thunderstorms in the area.
Gail Johnson said she looked at her husband and asked, "You don't think it could come again...?" He replied that he didn't think so.
"If it does, I'm not coming back," Rick Johnson said in the interview.
Gail Johnson said positive things came from the aftermath of the tornado, but she still wished she hadn't gone through it.
The East Otter Tail tornado was the first to hit the afternoon of June 17, 2010. Jim and Sandy Maloney went to the basement as the EF4 twister moved the house from its foundation.
When the Wadena tornado hit, it was close to 5 p.m. as many people were ready to be done with work. Gail Johnson, a day care provider, took shelter in the basement along with her husband, a few children and the father of one of the day care kids.
The tornado displaced many people and created a housing crunch.
"We're homeless!" Gail Johnson recalled thinking at first.
However, families they knew through day care helped them with housing in the days afterward.
Sue and Scott Lind took the Johnsons into their home the first week while they were on vacation.
Afterward, Dr. Chris and Sarah O'Kane offered their home to the Johnsons while they themselves moved out to their lake property.
Meanwhile, Mark Stone Construction worked on the Johnsons' new house, and M&W Construction and Cabinets worked on the Maloneys' new house while the Maloneys themselves slept in their camper.
The Johnsons moved into their new and bigger home in December 2010, and had a house blessing with their church.
The Maloneys moved into their new home the same month, in time to have a family Christmas there.
The Maloneys said they were thankful for all the volunteer help they received in the first year after the tornado.
"There were an awful lot of very nice people out there that helped us a lot," Sandy said.
The Johnsons had acquaintances from all over the place stop in and asking if they needed any help.
On the Maloneys' agricultural property, the tornado destroyed or damaged more than just the house.
Jim Maloney said they have replaced some - but not all - of their farm buildings.
Some trees are still left to be taken care of.
"There's been an awful lot of cleanup. We're still not quite done yet," he said. "We've made good progress."
While some trees are looking better, others are dead and need to be taken down. He said they expect to get the woods cleaned up in about another two years.
Sandy Maloney said they planted many trees this spring.
"We've had a lot of grandkids out here helping us which is very nice," she said.
Also, extensive repairs had to be done on the farm's equipment and machinery.
"We've still got a few pieces of equipment that we've found are damaged," Jim Maloney said.
While some damage was obvious right away, he said, there were times when the machinery looked fine on the surface but turned out to have storm damage once he actually had to use it.
In Wadena, the Johnsons still have belongings from their old house to go through - and not everything came back in one piece.
Gail has an old antique clock, but after the tornado, she couldn't find the pendulum.
"Doesn't work without it," she said.
Like the Maloneys, the Johnsons lost trees and have been in the process of replanting and replacing them.
"We've been doing that little by little," Gail Johnson said. "We sure miss them because we have so much wind."
They lost their cars and their boat and have since replaced them.
"Sometimes you wonder if you've replaced them right," Rick Johnson said.
The new house took some getting used to even though it worked out well.
"I miss the other house. That was a good house," Rick Johnson said.
"It was smaller. This is much larger," Gail Johnson said.
From their new house now, they can see the school as it is being rebuilt.
The Johnsons and Maloneys continued to live on their same property, but not everyone else did.
Both Wadena and rural Otter Tail County saw people packing up and leaving in the aftermath of the tornado.
"The neighborhood changed," Rick Johnson said. "We lost neighbors, got new ones."
"We had a couple that lived across the road. All that was left standing on their farm was the house, but that was badly damaged. They took their insurance check, and they left. They only lived here about a year," Jim Maloney said. "They were so devastated, they didn't want no more of it."