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In Focus

A day in the life of responding to back-to-back disasters from a reporter’s perspective...

I currently have 10 different stories open, hundreds of photos to sort through, and too many open tabs on my computer to count. It has been like this for the last 24 hours...

On Monday, Memorial Day, I was taking a nap when I heard the scanner go off for a large fire. I’ve been known to imagine these calls in my sleep, so I waited for a second page to confirm it was not a dream. I wish it had been. The call was to the Minnesota Valley Irrigation fire. I headed to Wadena and ended up parking at the nearby salon and walking toward the scene. I ran into my co-worker on the way.

It didn’t matter where I stood with my telephoto lens, the same cop kept telling us to leave. Why? We were not in the way, we were in a public area, and there were many people standing across the roadway who were never approached. The last time he proceeded to say they were evacuating.

All right, yes, I didn’t want to be there with a storm brewing. Passing through that same spot on my way out, people were still standing there. I thought it was interesting because I later found out another reporter was standing right next to the fire and nobody asked him to leave. I don’t know what the deal was?

I went back to my car and tried to get out of the crazy cluster of traffic which was insane. It’s like everyone just came to look for themselves, even though a nasty storm was minutes from hitting the area.

By the time I got home, I had just enough time to gather the five cats and my dog, another neighbor, and her dog, and get them in the basement before the tornado warning went off. I had one tiny window in my basement I watched the storm through. I saw the sky turn green and heard the thunking of hail. I found a huge chunk of hail in my yard, bigger than a golf ball after the storm passed.

Between the scanner, scanner app on my phone, handheld weather radio, and social media, I was watching and listening. Then I heard Eagle Bend was hit hard, and they were asking for assistance to close down roads. That was not what I wanted to hear. How on earth did our area communities that rarely see something like this, get hit just weeks apart? I feel like I jinxed this as I had questioned earlier how Eagle Bend was so lucky and was spared from the last round of storms.

A neighbor picked me up after the tornado threat had passed and we, and my mom who was with him weather spotting, headed straight to Eagle Bend. The destruction was worse than what Clarissa had experienced (EF1) and on par with Verndale’s (EF2) damage from the May 12 storms. The biggest difference I noticed between Eagle Bend and the other towns was the damage to roofs. They were ripped off, and not just metal roofs.

I ran into my boss in Eagle Bend—whose pictures and videos you saw and can still check out on Facebook—already covering the damage. People were out everywhere, checking out the damage, checking on friends and neighbors. But people coming into town also caused a headache for officials trying to secure the area, clear debris from the roads, and power crews who were trying to do their job. Later that night I heard that the siren was sounded again just to get people to clear out of the area.

The next morning, I checked Facebook. I had heard about Old Wadena being wiped out. I informed the work group chat I would be heading there to check it out.

Then I got a message about a semi accident on 210 and 71. A 30-second drive later, I got pictures of the accident. The semi was dangling off the bridge and the car was smashed. I hoped everyone involved was okay.

Then I was on to the next disaster. I arrived at Old Wadena. It was rainy, windy, and a little chilly. The road to the campground was closed. I ended up hiking all the way up there to get pictures of the destruction. It was surreal. I knew I was in the right place but it was completely unrecognizable. The pavilion and the large oak trees were gone. A huge path of trees was just leveled. I’ve never seen anything like it. And the chances this could be cleaned up in time for the Rendezvous is slim to none. (I did get a ride back to my car. Thanks, R.G.!)

Finally, I reached the Sun office in Verndale where I spend my Tuesdays. I had just gotten set up, made coffee, and was talking to a customer when the power went out. I had been in the office for maybe 20 minutes and the power was projected to be down for a few hours.

At this point, I was not only tired but very frustrated. I packed up my stuff and headed for home where I immediately put on comfy pants, slippers, and my fuzzy robe. In the few short hours that I had been home working, another accident occurred in Clarissa.

Seriously...the disasters can stop now.

It’s going to be rough for a while in Eagle Bend. But I know the community and surrounding communities are banding together to help people out, help with cleaning up and removing trees to cooking meals for those in need. My heart goes out to those involved in the terrible destruction and those that can’t even stay in their homes due to the damage. And we also appreciate the officials staying up all night to secure the city and make it safe.

The last 24 hours have been surreal...but this is my job...I just hope we’re in for better days ahead.


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