Tornado kills three in town with a broken warning siren

Associated Press

SIREN, Wis. – Hundreds of people picked through belongings and cleared trees from streets Tuesday after a tornado struck without any warning siren being sounded, killing three people and damaging dozens of homes and business.

“This town is up and destroyed. Unbelievable,” said Dan McMonagle, a resident of Siren, a town of 900 about 65 miles northeast of St. Paul, Minn.

McMonagle and his wife, LaWanda, huddled in their bathroom as the tornado tore down their house Monday night. They escaped with bruises.

The storm injured 14 people, and four still were hospitalized Tuesday, said Mike Callen, a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Division. Their conditions were not released.

The tornado’s victims were identified as Ruth Schultz, 80; Thomas Haseltine, 60; and Sylvan Stellrecht, 77. All were from Dewey, about 15 miles east of Siren.

Schultz was playing cards with her husband and son when they heard on a police scanner that a bad storm was coming, said her son, Lennie Pfundheller. He said she had reached the top of the basement steps when a wall collapsed and pushed her into a counter. Pfundheller curled up in a fetal position and watched as linoleum tiles were sucked off the kitchen floor.

“I didn’t know where I was going to end up or if I was going to make it out or not,” he said.

The same storm also spun out a tornado that struck a few minutes earlier in Braham, Minn. No injuries were reported, but some 600 customers lost electrical service.

Siren has a village siren, but it was damaged by lightning in late April or May, said fire chief Tom Howe.

Repairs had been scheduled for next week, he said.

Joel Struck’s family lives in a house adjoining his bait shop. They barely had time to take cover.

“We had timber and everything else flying through the house at that time,” he said. “It was just lucky we didn’t get killed.”

The storm destroyed or damaged 120 to 130 houses in the town and hundreds more throughout the county, Burnett County Sheriff Tim Curtin said.

“It’s 10 times worse than the worst explosion you can imagine,” said Patrick Taylor, county medical examiner. “It’s unreal.”

The twister cut a path of damage about a half-mile wide and at least 20 miles long, sheriff’s officials said.

Gov. Scott McCallum declared a state of emergency Tuesday in Burnett and neighboring Washburn counties.

“Basically, everything is leveled,” said Marsha Lawson of nearby Hertel, who came to Siren with her husband to see if they could help after the storm. “There are cars either smashed into buildings or upside down.”

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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