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By Amber Hayden
WHEATON – According to the National Weather Service, an EF3 tornado touched down in the Town of Wheaton at 7:50 p.m. on Tuesday evening, September 24
The EF3 refers to the fujita scale and the amount of damage the tornado creates in its path. An EF3 has an estimated wind speed of 136 to 165 miles per hour and will do severe damage to whatever is in its pathway.
The tornado warnings began just after 7 p.m. Tuesday evening as far as St. Croix County and extended to Eau Claire County.
The destruction of buildings could be seen by those driving along 29, as the trailer park and several homes were brought down during the tornado.
One woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, said her family had celebrated her mother’s 90th birthday earlier that day, and when she received a phone call from her that evening all she could say was, “It could have been so much worse.”
She also said that after you crossed Hwy 29 and went two miles there was a home of an elderly couple that had been destroyed as well. At the time of the interview she said the 92-year-old man and 90-year-old woman had yet to be found.
Several businesses which included, Steve Rowan’s towing company, EDH Exteriors LLC, Morries from Chippewa Falls, and Elk Mound High School were offering help with clean up, rental cars free of charge, and a safe place to stay.
Elk Mound opened the high school that evening but according to Facebook posts from the school district, no one came to the high school seeking emergency shelter.
Also, school district officials opened Elk Mound high school at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning for people who were without power to use the showers in the locker rooms.
Other members of the Elk Mound and Wheaton communities that were not affected by the tornado were offering their help with clean up or even opening their homes to those who lost theirs.
Diane Degenhardt, mother of Ken Spuhler who owns and operates Spuhler Auto Body Repair, said she had come home after work and saw the news. “I record the 10 p.m. news, and when I saw it I knew exactly where it had happened.”
At 3 a.m. she got into her vehicle and drove by her son’s home and saw there had been no damage done, but then made the quick drive over to the auto body shop to check on it. “I drove in there and you couldn’t even tell there was any damage, but all I had was my car lights. And I said oh my gosh you wouldn’t even think anything happened at all! You couldn’t see any type of debris.”
Spuhler’s Auto Body Repair survived the tornado with no damage, but one of his employees lost his home, “His shop isn’t that old” said Spuhler’s mother.
Also suffering damages was a semi-truck as it was tipped over and rolled on to the side and then pushed to the side of the highway. According to a press release from the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office, the driver of the semi was transported for medical attention. The truck was dug out by shovels before it could be removed from the scene.
“We want to stress the importance of safety,” said Chippewa County Emergency Management director Dennis Brown. “If you see downed power lines and trees stay back from the area.”
Brown also said that the tornado was on the ground for four and a half miles and the base of it was half a mile wide. He also said only two people were transported for injuries and three were transported because of electric medical equipment that could not be running due to no power.
At 10:51 a.m. Wednesday The Chippewa County Emergency Management released a statement stating from 40th street to the west county line was restricted to only authorized personal saying they were no longer in need of volunteers and that parking was restricted in the area as well.
Governor Evers made a trip to Wheaton Wednesday afternoon and took a tour along 29, County Road M, and 30th and 40th street, observing the amount of damage to one section and then noticing how one home or business had no damage.
“I want to thank those who have stepped up to help out, and I have ordered the state agencies to cooperate,” Evers said. “Any damage should be reported immediately to 2-1-1, Emergency Management.”
Evers explained what he noticed most was even those who were scared because of the devastation, that people from other counties were coming to help with the clean-up and removal. He also urged residents who received damage to contact their insurance agents and file a claim as the state will be assessing the area so that disaster relief funds may be issued.
The tornado traveled along the path of the eastern edge of Dunn County and into the southwest corner of Chippewa County running a diagonal route for four to five miles. According to Chippewa County Emergency Management, approximately 15 residences experienced significant damage, 13 residences had major damage or were destroyed. Of those 13, four were mobile homes.
Anyone wishing to help can report to the Wheaton Fire Station, 3900 38th Street, and check in with the volunteer desk. You must be 18-years-old.
Menomonie, Wheeler and Knapp also had power outages and crews were working as fast as they could to restore power to those areas on Wednesday.