- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

LADYSMITH, Wis. (AP) Residents and business owners returned to downtown Ladysmith yesterday to inspect the aftermath of a tornado that injured dozens of people and damaged as many as 100 buildings.
Some of the people carried video cameras to record images of the tree limbs, glass and boards that littered the sidewalks in this rural northwestern Wisconsin town of 4,000 people. A trailer was left in a bank lobby, and a convenience store roof was wrapped around a tree.
The storm struck Monday with little warning, cutting a swath of destruction about 14 blocks long by four blocks wide through the center of town, Police Chief Norm Rozak said.
Forty-three persons suffered injuries, mostly bruises and cuts and none life-threatening, said Rusk County Sheriff Dean C. Meyer. Ninety to 100 structures were damaged.
Krista Diedrich helped her parents pick through the debris in the front yard of their home, where windows had been blown out and furniture had been overturned.
"It's depressing" Miss Diedrich said. "This is your hometown. You know that guy who lives there. You've been in that library. It's sickening."
The area was opened after another door-to-door search at daybreak for possible victims, and Ladysmith residents were given wristbands to differentiate them from outsiders. No bodies had been found.
The tornado was part of a larger storm that swept across northern Wisconsin and generated at least one other tornado, which hit a rural area near Wausau, damaging a few houses in the lightly populated area.
Hardest hit was the downtown area, which would have been bustling had it not been Labor Day.
The tornado was already on the ground and traveling through town before a warning siren was sounded, Chief Rozak said.
Some residents said they never heard the siren.
Peter Ollinger said he sat outside and watched a half-mile-wide cloud of spinning lumber, glass and rock tear through the town. Then he scrambled into his father's bomb shelter.
"It looked like a sandstorm," he said. "It sounded exactly like a train. It scared me."
About 14,000 customers lost power, including 2,500 in Ladysmith. Service was restored to all but 250 customers in Ladysmith by midday yesterday, said Xcel Energy spokesman Brian Elwood.
All five schools serving Ladysmith were closed yesterday. The first day of school in the neighboring town of Bruce was canceled because the Red Cross had set up an aid station, where about 20 people sp ent the night on cots.
Gov. Scott McCallum declared Ladysmith a disaster area, spokesman Tim Roby said.
Mayor Marty Reynolds, who quit the state Legislature to run a bed-and-breakfast downtown and is running for lieutenant governor, was out of town when he heard about the tornado.
He rushed back to discover the town's water tower had collapsed on his garage. The tidal wave of water smashed through the windows of his bed and breakfast.
"I just spent three years building this," he said as he inspected the damage, glass shards crunching under his feet. "I don't know if I can do this again."

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