It’s been two years to the day since a tornado cut a path through Wadena neighborhoods, destroying homes, devastating parks and dealing a mortal blow to the high school.
The community continues to move forward in its recovery.
Just after 5 p.m. on June 17, 2010, an EF4 tornado, the second-strongest on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, ripped a path of destruction across Wadena.
The multi-vortex tornado, 1.1 miles wide at its peak, struck a mortal blow on the Wadena-Deer Creek High School that sheltered students since 1965. Armed with wind speeds estimated at 170 mph, the tornado wiped out about 20 city blocks in southwest and northwest Wadena. The tornado traveled about 10 miles before its destructive path ended.
The damage involved 268 structures, including area businesses. Twenty-five families lost their homes. Damaged areas covered 20-25 percent of the city and extended to farmland outside Wadena.
The city and residents have replanted trees, businesses rebuilt and work continues in neighborhoods and parks and for the community center.
Ground was broken on the new $38 million school in May of 2010. It will house grades five through 12. The school serves Bluffton, Deer Creek and Wadena. An open house for the school is planned Aug. 29 to welcome students before the fall session begins.
On Friday, Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden was helping his son install a window in a “tornado house” that was gutted and his son is rebuilding.
For the city, rebuilding the destroyed Wadena Community Center with a new Wadena Wellness and Community Center is the next big step in recovery. The city has 29 pages of material for an application to send to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development Tuesday. The entire council worked on the project, Wolden said.
“We have a strong application,” Wolden said, adding it’s a shovel ready site that could put 150 people to work before winter.
The city had a fundraising goal of $1.9 million and exceeded that in pledges, money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance for its match to build the wellness center. The city is looking for $4.62 million from the state to complete the $10 million wellness center.
“We hope to know something in early July,” Wolden said.
Leaf River Ag, which relocated and rebuilt after the tornado struck its building by the high school, put in quotes to tear down the old building. The scarred building is perhaps one of the most visual remaining reminders of the storm.
The new school is a positive sign, Wolden said, adding the enthusiasm is evident. Brick is now going up on the safe room, which was built as part of the school to withstand a EF5 tornado.
“The high school is almost completely moved out of the college so M State is busy adjusting, fixing up, reorganizing and remodeling and getting ready for our fall classes.”
“The rest of the community is looking good,” Wolden said. “We still have empty building lots.”
The lack of rebuilding on empty lots has been disappointing, Wolden said. He asked the council to put together a program so people who own “tornado lots” where damaged homes were removed, will have the option to donate them to the city for the tax value. It’s a way for the city to work to recover its lost tax base. The city will then aggressively market those lots to get people to build homes again, Wolden said.
“We want people to move here,” Wolden said. “We will get people come to our fair city and help us move forward.”