A tornado spinning out from a line of fast moving thunderstorms in the dark of a September Saturday night ripped through a neighborhood in Rogers, Minn., killing a 10-year-old girl trapped by debris and causing millions of dollars in damage.
Along its path, the storm destroyed eight homes. Another 50 homes received severe structural damage with 350 homes receiving lesser amounts of damage from the tornado and wind.
Once daylight broke the following morning, a survey showed smashed homes, roofs off, hundreds of trees down, shingles and siding spread across lawns and streets.
Based on the damage, the National Weather Service (NWS) classified the tornado as an F2, spinning winds from 117 mph (187 km/hr) to 157 mph (251 km/hr). It roared across residential areas and fields for six miles reaching widths of up to 200 yds. (180 m) wide before losing energy.
The city of Rogers, with a population of 6,500, is located approximately 25 mi. (40 km) northwest of the Twin Cities. Just under a year ago, another severe storm with strong winds hit the same area and damaged 300 homes.
Some of the previous storm’s victims just completed repairing their homes when the most recent storm plowed through the area.
For Rogers Public Works director John Seifert, a Lieutenant on the Rogers Volunteer Fire Department, it would be a night to remember. It also would be the last night he would have any sleep for the following three days while pulling duty first as a firefighter and then quickly switching gears back to his public works role.
As one of the first firefighters to hit the street responding to the 911 call for the victim, Seifert found a surreal scene.
Through the pouring rain and pitch black darkness, the lights of his truck hit the side of a house where the wind had ripped off the entire outside wall.
“We were looking into someone’s kitchen. The entire wall had been removed and there were three people sitting on chairs inside their house that was half gone,” Seifert recalled.
Further down that street, the firefighters quickly found the home where the victim was trapped beneath debris. According to Seifert, the storm hit the house so hard that “it was pushed off its foundation and into the back yard. It just kind of slid off the foundation. It was half in the backyard and half in its basement.”
After patrolling with the fire department through much of the night to make sure there were no more victims and working with the police department to secure a perimeter around the neighborhood, Seifert moved back into his public works role. With the help of his staff, he began planning clean-up operations.
Storm clean-up began the following morning. Coordinated by the city of Rogers Public Works Department, 17 other municipalities and two dozen contractors began rolling into town with heavy equipment and workers, Seifert said.
City officials put out a call for civilian volunteers that evening through the local media.
During peak clean-up operations, Seifert estimated that more than 500 workers and 85 pieces of heavy equipment cleared the area of debris. Trucks hauled the debris over to the Public Works yard. At times, they rolled in every minute to drop off their loads.
It is estimated that 23 skid steers with grapples, 11 front end loaders, 38 tandems, six street sweepers, two lowboys, one excavator with a grapple and one clam truck moved into the area to expedite the storm clean-up operations.
With all the help and coordination by the staff from the Rogers Public Works department, most of the debris had been cleared from the yards and city right of way by the following Monday evening, just two nights after the storm tore through the area, Seifert said.
“It took a lot of coordination and it took a lot of dedication on the part of our staff to work through the night and most of us worked through the next day. We didn’t actually get any sleep until the third day or so. It was an ordeal,” Seifert remarked. “I think it’s one of those things where you see a lot of good come out in people.”
Working in the relatively tight confines of a city neighborhood, tons of heavy equipment and a small army of workers from the private contractors worked along side with the other municipalities and several hundred volunteers, Seifert noted.
“With the dedicated people who came to help us, we were literally able to clear the town curb to curb and we were street sweeping by 6 p.m. that Monday night, allowing us to open the streets up without checkpoints to the local residents,” Seifert explained. And, “it was very gratifying to see people drop what they were doing and disrupt their normal routines to come help us.”
“It was kind of weird,” he noted, “by Monday evening, residents were mowing their lawns, and still clearing up some smaller debris and bagging it. With the exception of houses boarded up and covered by tarps, you couldn’t tell from the condition of the streets that we had a storm.”
By day’s end, a pile of debris 35 ft. (11 m) high sat outside the Rogers Public Works headquarters. Seifert said that 5,000 cu. yds. (3,800 cu m) of debris along with approximately 5,000 cu yds. (3,800 cu m) of brush and tree debris was trucked out of the public works site over a four day period.
“We found a hauler to bring the wood chips down to a power plant. The chips ended up being used for energy. The money we received for the chips was able to offset some of the chipping and hauling costs,” Seifert said.
Based on a rough estimate of hourly equipment and labor rates, Seifert believes the city of Rogers received a minimum of $75,000 of help over the two-day clean up effort.
“We think that’s a conservative estimate because we know we had more people and equipment show up to help out,” Seifert added.
“We just had a lot of out-pouring of support. It was really humbling to get such a turnout and people who were dedicated and knew what they were doing to help us get the clean-up done and get the city back to normal as soon as possible,” Seifert said. CEG