GRANITE FALLS (AP) -- The F-4 tornado that pounded this southwestern Minnesota community left behind at least $8.1 million in damage to homes and other property.
Homeowners suffered $3 million in losses and $2.8 million in damage to vehicles and other items, a spokesman for State Farm, the largest private insurance company serving Granite Falls, said Thursday.
The storm further inflicted $2.3 million in damage to public property, according to a preliminary damage assessment completed Thursday by the state Division of Emergency Management.
Tuesday night's twister killed one person and injured at least 14 as it tore through farms west of Granite Falls and plowed up the city's west side.
The tornado packed winds estimated at 207 mph, just barely ranking it as an F-4 on the five-point Fujita Tornado Damage Scale, the National Weather Service reported. A hallmark of an F-4 tornado is devastating damage, with well-built houses leveled and structures with weak foundations blown some distance away.
The last time a tornado had reached the F-4 level in Minnesota, it devastated the southern town of Comfrey and killed one person on March 29, 1998. The same storm system spawned an F-3 tornado that killed one person and did severe damage in St. Peter, as well as two other F-3 tornadoes. Those twisters did $120 million damage in St. Peter and $45 million in Comfrey.
According to the state's assessment, the Granite Falls tornado destroyed 40 homes and damaged 300 others. Several businesses also were heavily damaged. The American Red Cross reported a higher number of homes destroyed, putting the figure at 72 single-family homes with part of the stricken area still unchecked.
The state was preparing to send its second request to Washington for a federal disaster declaration Friday. On Thursday, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials turned down a request to add the tornado aid request to the disaster areas already declared for parts of the Twin Cities and southeastern and northwestern Minnesota that have had floods in recent weeks.
Kevin Leuer, the state's emergency management director, said he submitted the request that way on the advice of a FEMA official working in Minnesota, and both were surprised by the rejection from FEMA headquarters.
If a revamped request is rejected, it the city may be left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for debris clearance, protective measures and utility work, plus other costs related to roads and bridges.
"If we have to go our own way it will really be a hardship," Mayor Dave Smiglewski said. "It will really be a challenge."
Smiglewski also said he thinks the state damage's assessment figures are low, particularly for utilities. He said he thinks the damage exceeds the $7 million caused by a flood that inundated another part of town in 1997.
Several factors weigh in favor of granting the federal disaster aid request, including the fact that Granite Falls is still recovering from the 1997 flood, Leuer said. He also cited the intense local impact of the storm, with the $2.3 million in losses amounting to $201 in damage for each of Yellow Medicine County's 11,310 residents.
More than 1,000 volunteers from Granite Falls and the area within a few hundred miles lent a hand Thursday. Wearing gloves and carrying trash bags and rakes, they picked up the debris strewn across town, beginning at the fringes of the affected areas and moving into the worst parts later on.
"We're still in the adrenalin stage right now," Smiglewski said. "People have 10 to 15 friends and family helping them right now. But afterwards, when they go away, people are going to have to come to grips with what has happened, and there will be a letdown."
"We do still need volunteers," he said at a City Council meeting. "For a while, we were overwhelmed by volunteers. There were so many we didn't know what to do with them. But I encourage people to come Saturday and Sunday -- we're not going to turn down any help. Anybody who wants to help with gloves and a big heart can come to the community center."
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