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Survivors of deadly tornado describe power of twister

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Loren Klimek points out were his parents, Gareth and Linda, took shelter as the tornado destroyed the family home near Dalton, Minn. David Samson / The Forum2 / 10
Nicole Hansen and her son, Landen, look on as her father, Don Trulson, points in the direction from which a tornado approached his daughter's home near Dalton, Minn. David Samson / The Forum3 / 10
Nate Erickson and his wife, Bailey, stand next to a tractor that provided Nate with life-saving shelter from a tornado that destroyed a machine shop owned by Travis and Nicole Hansen near Dalton, Minn., Wednesday night, July 8. David Samson / The Forum4 / 10
A heavily damaged boom truck bears witness to the power of a tornado that tore through the Hansen Service property near Dalton, Minn. David Samson / The Forum5 / 10
Twisted wreckage is all that remains from the shop area at the Hansen Service property near Dalton, Minn. David Samson / The Forum6 / 10
One of the Klimek family's vehicles sits crushed and entangled in trees near Dalton, Minn. David Samson / The Forum7 / 10
A Klimek family vehicle rests in a pond outside of what remained of their residence near Dalton, Minn., following a tornado that struck Wednesday, July 8. David Samson / The Forum8 / 10
The remains of Loren Klimek's childhood home are reflected in his sunglasses as he talks about the tornado that destroyed his parents' house near Dalton, Minn. David Samson / The Forum9 / 10
Seth Nelson. Special to The Forum10 / 10

DALTON, Minn. — It was shortly after 5 p.m. on a beautiful summer evening when Nicole Hansen got a call from her mother-in-law warning of a possible tornado in the area.

Hansen and her three children, ages 1 month to 4 years old, headed for the basement.

It wasn't a moment too soon.

Hansen said shortly after they settled in they could hear something battering the house above.

When things turned quiet, Hansen and her children emerged from the basement to find much of their house destroyed.

The sky already clearing, Hansen looked outside to an unfamiliar landscape.

For one thing, the large machine shop she and her husband, Travis, owned was simply gone.

Where the shop should have been was a large concrete slab and all around were jumbles of twisted metal that were once trucks and tractors.

One mangled heap of metal, she would come to learn, had protected one of her family's employees, Nate Erickson, of Battle Lake, from the worst of the twister's power.

Another worker, Seth Nelson, also of Battle Lake, was less fortunate, as his body was found nearby.

On Thursday morning, July 9, Hansen and Erickson recalled the moments leading up to the tornado's sudden arrival the previous evening.

Erickson said he and Nelson were working at the machine shop when Nelson became aware that a funnel cloud was forming.

Erickson said they had time to take some videos and joke about the twister's proximity before it became clear just how close it was.

"We realized real quick it wasn't a joke," Erickson said as he stood beside what was left of the large tractor he took shelter beneath moments before the tornado struck.

The twister obliterated the shop and left large trucks and tractors strewn about like broken toys.

Erickson doesn't remember consciously diving for the undercarriage of the tractor, but he figured afterward that he must have reacted instinctively, as the tractor was a type he worked on during his training to become a mechanic.

After blasting through the Hansen property, the tornado went on to punish nearby homesteads, including one owned by Gareth and Linda Klimek.

Aware of tornado warnings, the couple took shelter in their basement shortly before the twister hit, according to their son, Loren, who on Thursday morning was looking over wreckage left behind by the tornado.

Loren Klimek said his parents held onto each other and said some "Our Fathers and Hail Marys" as they huddled together in the dark.

Then, he said his parents told him, there was a sudden flash of light, which they figured out later was probably the house being ripped off its foundation.

Klimek said when his parents looked around they discovered their house was utterly gone and a car had joined them in the basement, missing by inches the spot where they huddled together.

Following Wednesday evening's destruction, Klimek said the fact his parents survived made it all "a little easier" to take.

He said people searched Thursday morning for signs of the house, but little could be found.

There were some remnants, however.

Loren Klimek said his parents' checkbook was found in a backyard several miles away.

As the Klimeks and their neighbors took stock Thursday morning, people paused to remember what was lost and to give thanks for what wasn't as they began picking up the pieces of what remained.

Don Trulson, Nicole Hansen's father, said his son-in-law, Travis, happened to be away from the shop on business when the twister struck, as was an employee who otherwise would have been at the business.

Trulson said he left his daughter's house for his own home shortly before the twister struck.

"I saw the funnel in my rearview mirror," he said.

Trulson added that a family in the area offered to provide his daughter's family with a place to live until they got back on their feet.

Loren Klimek said his parents would be staying with family.

According to a statement released by the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office, it is believed two tornadoes touched down in the Dalton area Wednesday evening, creating a 6 to 9 mile path of destruction in the area about 12 miles southwest of Fergus Falls.

The first tornado was reported at 5:08 p.m. 6 miles south of Dalton, following a National Weather Service tornado warning for the area, the Sheriff's Office said.

A second tornado was reported at 5:11 p.m. Wednesday 6 miles south of Dalton and one-half mile from Interstate 94 in Grant County, traveling northwest, according to the Sheriff's Office, which responded along with assistance from surrounding law, fire, and emergency medical service agencies.

The Sheriff's Office said the National Weather Service determined the tornado Nelson died in was classified as a category three on the enhanced Fujita scale — meaning it had wind speeds between 136 and 165 mph.

Dave Olson
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