March 31, 1998 in Nation/World

Twisters Hit Minnesota Hundreds Of Houses Destroyed; 6-Year-Old Killed, Dozens Hurt

Kevin Powers Associated Press
 

Residents shoveled broken glass and hacked through fallen trees Monday following rare March tornadoes that destroyed an estimated 635 homes in southern Minnesota.

A 6-year-old boy was killed and at least 38 people were injured, three critically, in Sunday’s violent weather.

Over two hours, the tornadoes cut a swath of destruction through nine communities, pulverizing much of St. Peter and Comfrey.

Wind carried bits of paper from the damaged towns up to 55 miles away.

Gov. Arne Carlson cut short a trip to Washington so he could tour the damaged areas, and sent National Guard troops to help.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency made available some of the trailer houses used last year to house victims of disastrous flooding along the Minnesota-North Dakota state line.

St. Peter, a town of 10,000 residents, was hardest hit Sunday. State officials said more than 500 homes were destroyed and 1,700 others were damaged.

People who were able shoveled glass and other debris into the streets Monday and plows and front-end loaders deposited the wreckage in state trucks.

“We have the desire to clean up, but we don’t have the tools,” said Tom Roggow as he struggled to clear a path through huge tree branches to his car so he could buy dry ice. “There’s no power to do cutting or drilling. You can’t call friends for supplies.”

Gustavus Adolphus College, where most students were away on spring break, was a disaster. Many campus buildings were damaged, including the chapel, which lost its 137-foot spire. A campus parking lot looked like a junkyard, with about 50 cars tossed around and their windows blown out.

“We have broken glass pretty much everywhere,” said college president Axel Steuer.

Classes for the school’s 3,000 students had been scheduled to resume April 6 but may be pushed back two weeks.

Debris was blown as far as the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs. A piece of the obituary page from the St. Peter Herald newspaper turned up in Apple Valley, 55 miles away, and a page from what appeared to be a library book from the town of Le Center was found 40 miles away in Eagan.

About 45 miles west of St. Peter in Comfrey, a town of about 550 people, the fire station, the city liquor store, a cafe and a church were all demolished, and the school had heavy damage. Fifty homes were destroyed and gas leaks forced residents to evacuate.

Comfrey was without water, sewer or electricity, and power company crews weren’t expected to reach the town until Thursday.

Power was expected to be out in portions of St. Peter until Friday, and the rural phone system outside town was not working. But water was safe to drink and the area’s 911 system was operating.

It was only the seventh time Minnesota has recorded tornadoes in March. Craig Edwards of the National Weather Service said unseasonably warm weather produced by El Nino seemed the most logical explanation for Sunday’s twisters.


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