- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

BAKER, Mont. (AP) - A preliminary storm survey determined a tornado that hit the east-central Montana town of Baker last weekend reached the EF-3 level, matching the strongest tornadoes ever recorded in the state, the National Weather Service said.

The tornado was on the ground for about 10 minutes Saturday evening, and traveled about a half-mile, destroying six homes and damaging more than 50. Several people were injured. The tornado exhibited EF-3 winds - at speeds of 135 to 165 mph - in a one-block area, the weather service said.

The tornado, which formed over Baker Lake, threw debris like all-terrain vehicles, freezers and a nearby park gazebo into the lake. One witness reported seeing a couple of cows thrown into the water, The Billings Gazette (https://bit.ly/25UYGCR) reported.

The lake is closed to boating, fishing and swimming while it is cleaned and tested for contaminants, said Chuck Lee, Fallon County Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator.

Officials don’t have a damage estimate, but believe it exceeds $1 million not including the cost of cleaning up the lake, Lee said.

Montana has seen four tornados that rated a 3 on the Enhanced Fujita intensity scale since record keeping began in 1950. One person died in an EF-3 in Wibaux County in 1952. EF-3 tornadoes were reported in Chouteau County in 1988, Sheridan County in 2010 and Carter County in 2014. The Sheridan County tornado touched down on a ranch about 15 miles west of the town of Reserve, killing Steven D. Smith, 46, and Robert Richardson, 10.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, https://www.billingsgazette.com

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