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Crews clearing debris from damaging storms in Rusk County

posted May 18, 2017 12:00 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Chuck Rupnow. bio | email

  • cr_conrath_051817-1
    Staff photo by Chuck Rupnow | Enlarge
    - Sean Ritter watches Wednesday as workers remove branches from a 60-foot pine tree that partially landed on his mother’s village of Conrath residence during a severe storm that hit parts of Rusk County Tuesday afternoon.

CONRATH — Sean Ritter leaned against the stump of a once 60-foot-tall pine tree in his mother’s yard Wednesday in the Rusk County village of Conrath.

He lowered his head and wiped his forehead before going near his mother, Katherine McCabe, and putting an arm around her while they watched work crews cut tree limbs off a corner of her home.

Downed trees were in epidemic proportion in this small community after a severe storm, one which included a tornado, struck the county late Tuesday afternoon.

“I didn’t hear a thing. I was in the basement,” McCabe said while keeping an appreciative eye on the workers. “It was just the idea that when the trees came down, it was like a domino effect. It didn’t go crashing at all!”

McCabe was referring to the line of seven similar-sized pines that all toppled in the storm — all facing the same direction when they were uprooted. The trunk of the last one in line missed her house by about 9 feet, but branches damaged a porch and other parts of her residence.

“It could have been a lot worse,” she said. “It’s all so hard to imagine what happened.”

“I used to slalom around those trees on my minibike,” Ritter said. “I can picture them all 60 feet tall, but now they are all gone. There just are no words for it all.”

Work crews, including those of several power companies, were at various locations in the area south of Ladysmith, with treetops snapped off, power lines down and metal debris from some farms strewn into fields, trees and power lines.

The Rusk County sheriff’s office reported the county was placed under a tornado watch around 4 p.m. Tuesday and at 5:50 p.m. received a report of a tornado on the ground in the U.S. 8/​Highway W area in the town of Strickland.

The tornado traveled easterly through the county, touching down in several places, including the Lake Amacoy and Conrath areas, the sheriff’s office said. Those areas received the most damage.

“We escaped the tornado with a few minor injuries but sustained heavy damage to public and private properties,” Sheriff Jeff Wallace said in a statement. “Severe damage was sustained to homes and rural farms. Many trees and power lines were down, and crews are working around the clock attempting to restore electricity and clear blocked roadways.”

Dan Richardson of Rice Lake said he has several friends in the Conrath area and was on hand there Wednesday, armed with a chain saw and skid steer, to help “wherever needed. I heard about all the trees down and figured I could help. You have to help people — it’s just the right thing to do.”

Ritter complimented the volunteers, various fire departments and others who were on site helping.

“Small communities help out other small communities. People help people. That’s just how it is,” he emphasized. “That’s just what you do at times like this.”

Contact: 715-830-5831,, @crupnow on Twitter