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Volunteers help in tornado damaged town

BY HENRY BRIER | SIREN, WI | July 20, 2001

About 500 residents in the northwest

section of the state have applied for federal disaster damage funds

after a tornado blazed a destructive trail through several cities.

"It wiped out quite a few homes on the ground for 40 miles," said

Ellis Wykstra, a Church World Service disaster response facilitator

who visited the region last week. "It pretty well devastated

everything in its path."

The tornado, packing 206 mph winds, destroyed more than 120 homes,

according to Gil Furst, director of Lutheran Disaster Response. The

twister cut a swath half a mile wide.

The storm left three people dead.

One of the hardest hit areas was Siren, where eight to 10 blocks

were wiped out, officials said.

Residents are still cleaning up damage from the twister that struck

at 8:30 p.m. June 18, reported David Jones, an assistant planner

with Wisconsin Emergency Management in Madison.

"There's quite a bit of assistance still being coordinated," Jones

said, adding the tornado originally was pegged as an F3 but grew to

an F4.

He said farmland in five townships was damaged, representing about

half the total damage. The other half was in Siren. Some timber

woods there were stripped bare and flattened, Furst added.

The Bethany Lutheran Church suffered substantial damage, he said.

Windows were blown out and the carpet has to be replaced because it

is full of glass.

"They were right in the path of the tornado," Furst said.

Houses were torn off foundations, officials said. An apartment

complex for senior citizens was destroyed. Several businesses that

were destroyed will be rebuilt, Furst said.

Wykstra said he met with representatives from faith-based

organizations and service providers to organize an interfaith that

will address the long-term needs of the community.

The damage registration process will extend into August. Another 500

people are expected to seek federal assistance.

Wykstra said the population is on the mend as repairs ensue.

"The spirit of the people seems to be very good and very upbeat," he

said. "They're working on insurance and claims, roofs are being

fixed on homes that are repairable. Townspeople are quite positive."

He said there has been an immense volunteer showing with some 1,200

people come out to help on weekends.

"These are just people that showed up," he said.

Furst said there are several Lutheran congregations in the area that

are doing what they can to help.

"We're providing funding for recovery and trying to get the word out

for volunteers" said Furst, who is scheduled to visit the region

July 31.

He said he plans to spend the day there, meeting with the faith

community to assess and help with their ministries and determine how

to best assist in relief efforts.

He said a mental health effort is well underway.

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