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Published June 07, 2008, 12:00 AM

Tornado ravages Minn. turkey farm

A tornado that swept through northwest Minnesota Friday morning left a man with minor injuries but killed thousands of turkeys at a Jennie-O farm near Menahga, Minn.

By: Lloyd Omdahl, The Forum

A tornado that swept through northwest Minnesota Friday morning left a man with minor injuries but killed thousands of turkeys at a Jennie-O farm near Menahga, Minn.

The tornado, which touched down about 9:30 a.m. in Wadena and Hubbard counties, toppled hundreds of trees, damaged or destroyed homes and small buildings, and knocked out power in areas.

The storm caused extensive damage to a farm operated by Jennie-O Foods, where eight large poultry barns were destroyed and other buildings also sustained damage, according to a company statement.

WDAY-TV, which had a reporter on the scene, reported thousands of dead turkeys at the farm, with carcasses strewn on the ground, and said that badly injured turkeys were to be destroyed.

Each barn can hold an estimated 14,000 birds, so the loss could have exceeded 100,000, WDAY reported.

Chris Leritz, a Jennie-O employee, received minor injuries after he was tossed 15 feet into the air and thrown into a turkey barn, his mother told the Park Rapids Enterprise, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper.

A co-worker drove Leritz to St. Joseph’s Area Health Services in Park Rapids, where he was treated and released.

A tornado also caused extensive damage in the Emmaville area along the shores of Pickerel Lake, northwest of Park Rapids in Hubbard County.

Rural resident Drew Huntziger told WDAY that he was awakened by the wind, looked out the window and saw 80-year-old Norway pines being uprooted and toppled.

“It’s like it was nothing to it,” Huntziger said. “There was no problem lifting them out of the ground.”

The tree stands on his 45-acre lot were devastated. “I bet you I have over a hundred trees down,” Huntziger said. “I have no trees left in my yard.”

A mobile home and four summer homes near Pickerel Lake sustained extensive damage, according to The Bemidji Pioneer, also a Forum Communications Co. newspaper.

Hubbard County Sheriff Gary Mills said the devastating storm’s consequences could have been much worse. “Right now, I can tell you we’ve been fortunate,” he said.

The path of the storm, ranging from a quarter to a half-mile wide, extended almost 20 miles, from Menahga to an area east of Park Rapids, according to damage reports received by the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D.

“We’re fairly confident about the issue of tornadoes,” meteorologist Greg Gust said Friday. “It could have been one or more tornadic episodes.”

Severe weather conditions disrupted power at the Park Rapids substation, affecting Itasca-Mantrap Cooperative members in the area. Additional outages have been reported throughout the service area, including downed lines north of Hubbard County Road 40.

A tornado watch remained in effect for most of northwestern Minnesota until 4 p.m. Friday. Clay County and Wadena County were removed from the watch area early Friday afternoon.

A possible secondary tornado also was spotted.

At 10:38 a.m. radar indicated a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado three miles west of Badoura, Minn., or 43 miles south of Bemidji, according to the weather service.

More than an inch of rain fell Thursday evening and Friday morning in the Fargo-Moorhead area, but there were no reports of hail. The worst weather missed the metro area, with earlier forecasts calling for a strong storm system to bring heavy rains and possible hail.

A last late Friday morning storm blew through the F-M area, dumping almost a fifth of an inch at Hector International Airport, where 1.11 inches had fallen earlier, the weather service reported.

“If we can walk away from this storm without any flooding or anything further, then I think we’ll wipe our brow,” Gust said, though he said he did not mean to minimize the wind damage Friday morning.

Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service continued to monitor conditions. Forecasters were worried the storm system could redevelop, but heavy cloud cover in most areas helped cool temperatures, and reduce volatility.

Meanwhile, heavy rains caused flash flooding in northeast Minnesota, prompting the brief closing of parts of Highway 61. Streets were flooded in Grand Marais, on the shore of Lake Superior, where almost 5 inches of rain fell overnight.


Forum reporter Dave Olson and The Associated Press contributed to this report

WDAY AM, WDAY TV, Park Rapids (Minn.) Enterprise and Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer, all owned by Forum Communications Co., contributed to this report

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