Shirley Andersen looked up from the floor and saw her house was gone, ripped away by a tornado. A couple in their 60s rode out the storm in their bathtub. The town hall was squashed “like a soda can.”
Four people were killed as tornadoes tore across Wisconsin during the night Saturday, ripping up small communities and farms.
One tornado gouged a 13-mile-long swath through central Wisconsin and turned this small town’s main street into a tangle of metal, lumber and trees.
Damage from the tornado in Adams County, where Big Flats is located, was estimated at $4.5 million, Sheriff Robert Farber said.
The bodies of an elderly couple were found in the wreckage of their home near Big Flats. Twenty-two people were injured and five remained hospitalized Sunday, Farber said. Authorities knew of 24 houses destroyed and about 175 damaged in Adams County.
A tornado in Eau Claire County in western Wisconsin killed a 3-year-old girl when a mobile home was blown into a ditch. A woman riding in a van that was blown off a highway also died.
More tornadoes touched down in Green Lake and Juneau counties, wrecking houses and barns and leaving dead cattle in pastures.
Adams County Emergency Government Director Frank Zernia estimated that up to 400 of the 740 residents of Big Flats, about 80 miles north of Madison, were affected by the tornado.
National Guard Capt. Scott Meske, one of 40 Guardsmen sent to the area, said the municipal building looked as though it was crushed “like a soda can.”
Big Flats residents Bob Geiger, 65, and his wife, Marion, 60, rode out the storm in their bathtub as their roof was torn off and windows were shattered.
Geiger said they crawled into the tub because it seemed like the safest place. “Glass was flying, you could hardly see anything. Things were whirling around,” he said. “I was really scared.”
Shirley Andersen, 58, looking at the wreckage of her mobile home Sunday morning, said the last thing she remembered before the twister hit was the lights going out and her husband reaching for a candle.
“We hit the floor. It seemed like a half a second later I raised my head up from the floor and looked to the north and there was nothing there. Everything was gone,” she said.