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The March 29 tornadoes struck first in southwest Minnesota causing extensive damage in the community of Comfrey and neighboring farms. The twister damaged the economic heart of the town and caused more misery for farmers already facing challenging times.
THE TORNADO DESTROYED A HOUSE and a church 10 miles southwest of Comfrey before taking aim on the town of 550 people. Comfrey Fire Chief Mark Warner was in a truck watching for severe weather with his 16-year-old son when he saw a whirling mass moving toward the community
Warner: Been through weather watch for how many years ... they always talk about a wall cloud, things like that...uh...I saw no wall clouds. I literally did not see a wall cloud. What it looked like to me was fog rolling in, and basically what that was, was just the dirt and debris being picked up, you know, by the tornado itself.Warner ordered Comfrey officials to trigger the town's siren. Less than a minute later, the twister struck.
Warner: Uh, first the driver's window blew out, or I should say exploded in. I think something hit it. The one window came in, I turned the vehicle a little bit, away from what I thought was the brunt of the storm. Uh, then my windshield was smashed, the rider side window came in next, followed by debris, and then--I've got a Bronco, it's got fiberglass top over the back, that was tore off, or literally sucked off the vehicle, and then we were bombarded by debris constantly. I tried to protect my son, you know, I basically lay down on top of him between the seats, and just tried to protect him.The tornado moved through the center of town, destroying most Main Street businesses. The fire hall collapsed. The steeple of Faith Lutheran Church was wrenched off and deposited upside down next to the building, driven into the ground like a giant dart. Most of the houses in town are damaged, ranging from broken windows to ripped off roofs to total collapse. Debris is everywhere, with sheet metal wrapped around utility poles. Bricks strewn across streets and uprooted trees covering the mess. Belinda Friesen says the heavily damaged school building may be the worst blow.
Friesen: We were struggling to keep that school open, and of course, I have no idea where we're at now.The kindergarten through high school building is a source of pride for the town. It helps hold Comfrey together. If the town cannot afford to reopen the school, it could affect other decisions by businesses and homeowners on whether they'll rebuild.
Friesen: We'll just have to take it a day at a time.The tornado damaged dozens of farms as it moved east from Comfrey. Volunteers at the Evelyn and Wilbert Eishen farm used tractors and front-end loaders to clear debris. The storm broke nearly every window in the house, and leveled a barn. Evelyn Eishen was babysitting her two-year-old granddaughter when the tornado struck. She tried to get downstairs with the child, but strong wind pinned the basement door shut, so she ducked under the kitchen table. Her granddaughter didn't notice the turmoil.
Eishen: She was wrapped in a blanket and she slept through the whole thing. (laughs) And then I sat in the rocker with her for a half hour afterwards and rocked her and she still slept.The Eishen's say they plan to repair the damage and keep farming. Although the day after was cloudy and misty, cleanup volunteers were everywhere. A couple dozen were at the Eishen farm, and long lines of trucks at other farms told a similar story. More are ready to help Comfrey residents. This willingness to help each other may be the key to how well Comfrey and area farms recover from the damage left by the March tornado.