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Town mops up after tornado roars through

The Wisconsin storm caused damage worth nearly $21-million.

©Associated Press
September 4, 2002

LADYSMITH, Wis. -- The whine of chain saws and the rumble of earth-moving equipment echoed Tuesday through Ladysmith as cleanup began in the wake of a tornado that injured dozens of people and damaged up to 150 buildings.

"It's sad," resident Mandy Fuchs said. "We're a small little town. It's the kind of thing you see in a movie, not in little old Ladysmith."

Monday's storm churned a path of destruction about a dozen blocks long and four blocks wide, and caused $20.8-million in damage, city officials said.

"You tear down what you have to tear down. You patch up what you can patch up," said Mayor Marty Reynolds, whose garage was leveled when the city's water tower was blown over.

Gov. Scott McCallum declared Rusk County and nearby Taylor County in northwestern Wisconsin disaster areas, making them eligible for state aid. Federal assistance was being sought.

More than 30 people were treated at hospitals for injuries ranging from cuts to broken legs, officials said.

On Tuesday, mounds of lumber and glass clogged the sidewalks. Telephone poles hung suspended in their own wires. A car was blown about 75 yards and turned on its roof. A church was leveled.

Along the Flambeau River, the tornado left overturned water scooters and ruined docks in its wake.

Residents lined up outside the Rusk County Law Enforcement Building, waiting for wristbands that would let them pass police barricades and return to what was left of their homes.

"It's depressing," Krista Diedrich said. "This is your hometown. You know that guy who lives there. You've been in that library. It's sickening."

By midafternoon, busloads of volunteers had arrived, while National Guardsmen were expected today to help with the cleanup.

"A lot of these people I've never seen before in my life," said Will Stamper as he watched volunteers cut up uprooted trees in his back yard.

A second tornado spawned by the same storm was reported in Wausau. Officials said preliminary reports indicated two barns were leveled and at least 32 homes damaged.

Some Ladysmith residents raised American flags in the rubble. But not everyone was somber.

On a flattened red convertible -- with wooden 2 by 4s driven through the windshield -- someone had scrawled a message in the dust on a window.

"For sale. Cheap."

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