DALTON, Minn. (AP) — Powerful tornadoes that ripped across farmland in western Minnesota, killing one person and injuring two others, could have exacted a higher death toll if the twisters had struck a more populous area, authorities said Thursday.
Severe storms that swept through parts of the Midwest on Wednesday produced at least two tornadoes that damaged farms near Dalton, about 153 miles (246 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis.
A 30-year-old man, Seth Nelson of rural Battle Lake, was killed when a twister destroyed a large garage in which he was working Wednesday evening, said Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Lt. Keith Van Dyke.
Two others were taken to a hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening, Van Dyke said. The couple, who lived in the path of one of the tornadoes, were treated for minor injuries and released.
According to initial estimates, up to seven homes and outbuildings were damaged, including shops and garages, Otter Tail County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons said Thursday.
Fitzgibbons said the tornadoes struck a largely rural area. “Had it been a more populated area, this conversation would be a lot different. I think we would have had a lot more injuries and potentially more deaths,” he told reporters.
“There’s some people that are hurting today — physically, mentally. Some tragedies took place here, with a considerable amount of damage,” said County Commissioner John Lindquist, who lives less than a mile from the closest path of the tornado.
National Weather Service ground crews were working to confirm reports of additional tornadoes, meteorologist Daniel Robinson said Thursday.
“Having eyes on the ground, the survey teams can look for indicators of other possible touchdowns,” Robinson said.
Kathy Long VanVoorhis, in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, said she was awakened by the storm early Thursday.
“We heard this crack outside our bedroom window and immediately got up, and we ran out and saw the tree had fallen,” she said.
After that the tornado sirens started blaring, she said.
“We went outside and assessed our damage and decided there wasn’t much we could do, and went to the basement. We are safe and it didn’t hit our house, but hit our two cars.”
The two tornadoes are believed to be at least in the EF3 category, with winds of 136-165 mph (219-266 kph), the weather service said. The twisters left a 6- to 9-mile (10- to 14-kilometer) trail of damage, with the first striking at 5:08 p.m. south of Dalton, following a tornado warning, followed by a second tornado three minutes later.
A tornado crossed Interstate 94 but no vehicles were affected, according to the weather service. Other possible tornado activity was reported Wednesday in Colorado as well as parts of Nebraska and Illinois.
Residents in much of Nebraska were cleaning up and waiting for power to be restored Thursday following high winds, hail and heavy rain. Weak tornadoes were reported in unpopulated areas near Venango and Grant in southwestern Nebraska and Thedford in northwestern Nebraska, according to the National Weather Service in North Platte. Only minor tree damage was reported from those, meteorologist Shawn Jacobs said.
In Sedgwick County, Colorado, near the Nebraska state line, KDVR reported that video from a trained weather spotter captured a tornado that caused property damage. No injuries were reported.