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Home flips, but family survives

posted May 17, 2017 11:13 p.m. (CDT)
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by / Chris Vetter Leader-Telegram staff

  • mw_tornado_2a_051817
    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik | Enlarge
    - Lenna Samuelson, right, shares a moment with her 14-year-old daughter Brenna as she recalls the story of Brenna saving her 3-month-old nephew during the tornado Tuesday near Chetek, as they rest at the Mosaic Telecom building Wednesday in Cameron.
  • mw_tornado_16a_051817
    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik | Enlarge
    - A mobile home frame sits twisted in a field hundreds of feet away from the Prairie Lake Estates trailer park where it came from Wednesday along Highway SS in Barron County.

CHETEK — Lenna Samuelson isn’t sure how she got the cut above her eyebrow that required 13 stitches, but she feels lucky to have survived Tuesday’s tornado that struck her Barron County home.

“It was something big. Something hit me in the back,” Lenna Samuelson said Wednesday afternoon. “Something flew and physically hit me. It happened so quickly.”

Samuelson, 46, was in her mobile home Tuesday with her 22-year-old daughter, Ashley Samuelson, Ashley’s 3-month-old son, Nolan, and Lenna’s 14-year-old daughter, Brenna, when the tornado struck the Prairie Lake Estates mobile home park about five miles northwest of Chetek.

“A little after 5, it was really raining and hailing,” Ashley Samuelson said. “Then the power went out.”

Lenna Samuelson only had seconds to warn her daughters.

“It got really loud,” Lenna Samuelson said. “I yelled at them to grab the baby and get to the bathroom.”

All three recalled the feeling of being thrown around as the trailer was lifted off the ground.

“It flipped over — it’s flattened,” Lenna Samuelson said. “Somehow, everything collapsed around us. I think it’s a total loss.”

Brenna grabbed Nolan just in time.

“The mattress landed on Brenna and the baby, and protected them,” Lenna Samuelson said.

Ashley Samuelson said she is scared at the thought of how close she came to losing her young son.

“We are so thankful — it could have been so much worse,” Ashley Samuelson said. “It was crazy; it was scary.”

Their dog, Coco, was in the home with them and also survived the storm.

Lenna Samuelson echoed her daughter’s comments that the important thing is everyone was safe, healthy and together.

“Stuff doesn’t matter,” she said.

Lenna Samuelson’s husband, Brent Samuelson, was 80 miles away. Lenna Samuelson called him immediately and told him everyone was OK.

The Samuelsons all went to Marshfield Clinic Lakeview Medical Center in Rice Lake. Along with Lenna’s injury, Ashley Samuelson needed five stitches for a cut on a foot, while Brenna Samuelson had a scratch on her cheek. The Samuelsons spent Tuesday night with Lenna’s parents in Chetek.

On Wednesday, the Samuelsons headed to Mosaic Telecom in Cameron, which had been turned into an emergency gathering place for those displaced by the storm. They were amazed at all the help that was offered to them, from food to clothing.

“So many people have reached out with support,” Lenna Samuelson said.

Just in time

As Ed and Jami Sonnenberg re-entered the park Wednesday afternoon, they found their trailer atop a car and truck, and the crate that held their bulldog/​pitbull mix, Diamond, was still caught among the debris.

“When I started looking through the rubble, I found her underneath rubble in her kennel, and she was alive and not hurt,” Jami Sonnenberg said.

As he looked over the damage, Ed Sonnenberg held his 21-month-old son, who was smiling and giggling with his arms wrapped around his dad’s neck.

Sonnenberg spoke about the fears that kept playing over in his head about what would have happened if his son had been home at the time of the tornado. 

He estimates that he and his family left the park about three minutes before the tornado hit, he said.

“When I left, everybody was still in the trailers, and when I got there, all the trailers were demolished,” Jami Sonnenberg said.

Residents said they were asked to leave Tuesday night after an apparent gas leak was found. A skid steer on the back of a truck bed that held numerous gas meters was hauled off before residents returned Wednesday.

Treated for injuries

Their home entirely flattened near the south side of the park, the Rutledges held their three dogs close as they headed to the Mosaic Center before returning to their trailer.

They were still in search of one of their dogs, a red dachshund named Colby Cheese that they were hopeful they would find.

Douglas Rutledge was still in critical condition as of early Wednesday afternoon, suffering from damage inflicted when a refrigerator fell on him, his family members said. He was flown to Regions Hospital in Minnesota after suffering severe damages from the storm. 

His wife, Cynthia, had numerous bruises up and down her arm and required a sling for her left arm.

“I got hit in the head and the wall was on top of me,” Cynthia Rutledge said, noting that a few men lifted the wall and helped her out of the home. 

Tawnya Mulvaney, 50, of Cameron suffered damage to her house off  Highway OO. She showed up at Mosaic Telecom seeking bottled water.

“Siding got ripped off our house. A vehicle was totaled,” Mulvaney said. “Our water isn’t working. The power is out.”

The whole storm was over rather quickly, Mulvaney said.

“The sky turned green, so we went in the basement,” she said. “I was on my way downstairs when the big tree fell on the truck.”

Tracy Nelson, spokeswoman for American Red Cross, said between 30 and 50 people showed up at the emergency shelter Tuesday, with about 50 to 60 arriving Wednesday.

“We were mobilized probably within the first hour,” Nelson said. “We have 15 American Red Cross volunteers here. We have tons of awesome community members.”

Nelson said they have plenty of clothing items and food, and don’t need more at this time.

“We’d prefer monetary donations,” she said. “Right now, we are assessing needs of our clients. We just have to get organized and get that assessment.”

Nelson, who traveled from Eau Claire to help, has been at a variety of disaster scenes. She praised the Chetek and Cameron communities for providing aid.

“We’ve had so many people come together,” Nelson said. “They rally and help their communities. That’s huge.”

Pets missing

Kari Harrison, vice president of the Humane Society of Barron County, was at Mosaic Telecom with several kennels. Harrison estimated there are nine missing pets from the trailer park. She knows several of those animals have been seen alive since the storm so it is a matter of rounding them up and getting them the treatment they need as well, Harrison said.

“We’re accepting donations on behalf of the furry friends,” Harrison said.

The Humane Society is seeking dog and cat food, dishes, leashes, collars and pet beds.

Cleanup continued across Barron and Rusk counties on Wednesday. At a Jennie-O turkey farm along Highway SS, near the trailer park, workers were scooping up live birds in skid steers and bringing them to a temporary fenced-in shelter area.

Contact: 715-723-0303, chris.vetter@ecpc.com