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Picking Up The Pieces Residents Pitch In To Clean Up Damage In Farming Town Hit Hard By Storm

Fri., July 14, 1995

There were signs that things were getting back to normal in this Palouse farm town Thursday, and coming after Sunday’s destructive storm, that’s big news.

Patrons at Cher’s Restaurant were throwing the dice to see who would pay for coffee, and Cher Curtis herself, who also is the mayor, managed to get over to Country Styles to have her hair done.

Gene Bridge’s barber pole still wasn’t working. Some volunteers had covered its electrical switch when they put plywood over his broken window. But well before noon, he had trimmed three heads.

Garfield was hit particularly hard by the storm that shot through Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

“For as much damage as there was, things are fairly normal,” said Ray Bernard, president of the State National Bank of Garfield, whose metal roof became airborne Sunday and tore through the small downtown.

A complete damage estimate still is unavailable, but area crop damage alone is topping $3 million, said Steve Witthuhn of Associated Independent Agencies, the only insurance agent in town.

As of Thursday afternoon, Witthuhn had received about 50 claims from farms and another 150 home and auto claims.

“Every day, someone is calling with a new dent in their car from a hailstone,” he said.

As ordinary as life seems on the surface, Sunday’s tornadolike storm still has everyone talking.

Dan Imler told of watching his wind gauge hover around 75 mph when he was distracted by his patio roof starting to lift off. Then the wind gauge broke.

A shop building at Dennis Conrad’s place was ripped loose from its foundation bolts and blew into his house. A 7,200-pound grain dryer at Gene Luden’s blew over.

“We’ve got three grain bins down here, and it looks like the Jolly Green Giant went wham, wham, wham,” said Curtis, punching the air.

Hailstones were indeed the size of golf balls - there are photographs.

The hail knocked out satellite dishes and windshields. Fields of high, lush pea and lentil plants were turned flat and brown.

“We moved here in ‘27, and this never happened,” said Willard Gwinn.

His own damage tally: 36 of 63 towering pines and spruces snapped in half. Sixty of his 120 cars, many of them old wrecks such as a ‘47 Chevy pickup, a ‘37 Plymouth coupe, a ‘50 Hudson, a ‘59 Caddy, wrecked even further.

He wasn’t insured, but his house, barn and pump house, which sustained about $12,000 in damage, were. Now he hopes to cover costs by selling his broken timber, just as the city is looking at paying bills with the 300 or so snapped trees at the cemetery.

“Insurance and logs are the only good things about the whole damn business,” Gwinn said. “That’s the only positive. That and that nobody got hurt.”

Fire Chief Wes Griner complained that he could not get through on an emergency radio frequency to get help from the Whitman County Sheriff’s Department directing traffic around downed electrical wires.

“I think they should have responded a little quicker,” he said, “but they had so many calls. They had calls from all over. I guess they didn’t think we were as bad as they thought until they showed up.”

As soon as the storm ended - blue skies reappeared in about half an hour - local residents began picking up the pieces.

“They just jumped right in,” said Curtis.

Although the downtown cleanup began Sunday, insurance adjusters and out-of-town contractors remained busy Thursday. In Washington, D.C., Rep. George Nethercutt’s office is scheduled to discuss farm disaster options in a Monday meeting with Sen. Slade Gorton, Federal Crop Insurance officials and the Consolidated Farm Insurance Agency.

Whatever the outcome, farmers who have seen a potential recovery year hammered into the ground aren’t expecting a return to normal anytime soon, said farmer Warren Neal.

“It looked like a record year as far as lentil and wheat right here,” Neal said. “It looked great…But even with insurance payments, you’ve got a big loss.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

Tags: weather

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