A look back at the July 11 twister and families who have rebuilt
Ever since emerging from their basement after the July 11 tornado struck their picturesque hobby farm southwest of Willmar, Tom and Linda Mikelson have been cleaning and rebuilding.
For nearly six solid months, the family, church and school volunteers and contracted carpenters have been working non-stop. What was destroyed "in a blink of an eye" has taken countless hours to restore, Linda said.
They're still not done, despite Herculean efforts. Tom frequently works until 2 a.m. on repairs. He lost 25 pounds from his slim frame the first month after the storm because of the stress and work.
"At least this is something I can fix," Tom said, tears slipping down his cheek.
He glances outside the kitchen window toward a cute red horse barn that carpenters were still working on last week.
It was built to replace a 1918 barn that was destroyed by the tornado.
But the old barn had something that can never be replaced -- bittersweet memories of the couple's 18-year old son, Adam, who was killed in a car accident on March 23, 2006.
Adam had fixed up the barn to play basketball. He spent hours in the old barn, practicing lay-ups and defensive moves against imaginary opponents. His youthful time there is what made the old barn, which had its fair share of rickety boards and holes, valuable.
Seeing the barn laying in a twisted heap wrenched their hearts, Linda said.
"Kind of cruel," is how she describes the tornado that took away the barn filled with memories of Adam.
The replacement barn is solid with a roof line that replicates the old barn. Tom has installed a steel pipe in the new cement floor for a basketball hoop. But it feels empty, the Mikelsons say.
If it weren't for the memories of their son that still permeates their home, perhaps they would've "picked up and left" after the tornado, Tom said.
Instead, they chose to rebuild.
In all, the family lost seven outbuildings, a large grove of trees and 2,600 personal items Tom meticulously recorded and researched for replacement.
Their 12-year old daughter, Christine, lost an old chicken barn she'd transformed into a playhouse to write stories. The manual typewriter she used was found in some twisted tree branches. The family's loss is estimated at $350,000.
In a testimonial that was read to his church members, Tom wrote that when he came from the basement he saw, "No building, no trees, no anything. It looked like an atomic bomb."
He wrote about his thankfulness that his plea to God to protect his family was answered. While there was "total destruction and debris" 10 feet from around their house, their home had just minor damage and their family was uninjured.
"We lost many memories and material belongings, but my family was saved," he wrote. "We will persevere and rejoice, with God's guidance."
Linda has put up a Christmas tree, but said she probably isn't going to bother with the stairwell garland and other decorations this year. It's not that important, she said.
And besides, said Tom, their family is celebrating "Christmas everyday" with a heart of thankfulness for surviving and "being here."