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Hettinger County 4-H kids won't be taking their exhibits to the North Dakota State Fair as cleanup continues from a tornado that hit Mott on Friday, July 12, 2019. (New England Herald photo)

Hettinger County 4-H exhibits won't make it to state fair after tornado

MOTT, N.D. — Hettinger County won't have any 4-H exhibits on display at the North Dakota State Fair due to the tornado that ripped through Mott on Friday, July 12.

The tornado struck during the Hettinger County Fair, so the 4-H exhibit building on the fairgrounds was full of projects and a variety of heirlooms, said Duaine Marxen, North Dakota State University Extension agent for Hettinger County. The building was destroyed by the storm.

Projects for the North Dakota State Fair had to be in Minot by Monday, July 15, to be judged on Wednesday, July 17. With the building awaiting cleanup, whatever projects survived the storm remain in the rubble.

"We can't do anything," Marxen said. "Right now it's taped off with police tape."

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado touched down north of Mott around 9:24 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time and moved southeast, right through town and the fairgrounds.

Wind from the tornado was measured at 105 mph, making it an EF-1 tornado, considered of "moderate" severity. It was 200 yards wide and traveled 2.85 miles in the eight minutes it was on the ground.

Marxen said a hypnotist had just finished performing at the fair and a band was supposed to take the stage shortly when the storm started moving in. Everyone made it to safety, with no reported injuries. The 4-H building had closed at 7 p.m., so no one was inside by the time the storm hit.

Marxen watched the storm in his living room until the window he was looking through started flexing several inches. Then, he figured it was "time to go to the basement."

"You could easily tell this was a tornado because odd things happened," Marxen said.

The Hettinger County 4-H building held 4-H projects and numerous heirlooms when a tornado hit Mott. (New England Herald photo)For instance, a 4-H trailer parked right next to the destroyed building had only a scratch. A bleacher from the fairgrounds broke free and tumbled into a camper, turning it on its side. However, a pole from the bleacher got stuck in the ground, stopping it from taking out another row of campers.

Damage around town includes plenty of downed trees and roofs blown off. Farm damage includes totaled grain bins and outbuildings. Crop damage is spotty but severe in places, Marxen said. The tornado touched down in a winter wheat field that he estimates would have yielded 80 bushels an acre. The spinning motion of the tornado can be seen in fields. The storms also brought hail and heavy rain, so some fields suffered hail or wash-out damage.

Volunteers showed up Saturday to help clear trees and pick up debris. Many fair events that had been scheduled for Saturday were canceled, including a derby and a parade. But the fair board served their noon meal at the Knights of Columbus Hall, which provided food for the workers. A concert planned for Saturday night was moved to a trailer in the street, and the event ended up being a street dance that Marxen said was "fairly well attended."

More offers of help have come to the county from across the state, including from some Griggs County 4-H'ers who offered their premium money to their Hettinger County brethren. Marxen's wife, Cindy, who also works for Extension, took the phone call on that one.

"My wife started crying," he said.

As for the 4-H building, Marxen said a 4-H dad has a construction license and is prepared to "rally the troops" once they get the go-ahead from insurance. Then, they plan to take the building apart piece by piece in order to salvage whatever they can from inside.

The silver lining of the storm, Marxen explained, is that many in the county had wanted to see the 4-H building replaced.

Marxen had never been in a tornado, but the July 12 storm made for a fair the county never will forget.