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Tornado victims slowly rebuild their lives, homes they lost

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local Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
(320) 235-6769 customer support
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Tom Mikelson, his wife, Linda, and their daughter, Christine, went to the basement when they saw the tornado bearing down from the west on their six-acre hobby farm. Their horse, housed in a restored 1918-era barn -- which imploded in the storm -- shared their sentiment.

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"The horse bolted out of the barn, and I bolted to the basement," Tom said.

A couple of minutes after the tornado passed, they heard county rescue squad members pounding on their door and came up to survey the damage.

The house sustained only two broken windows, but the barn, a Quonset, a hog barn, a shop and a playhouse were part of seven buildings that were destroyed. The family, physically unharmed, climbed over mature, fallen trees to get to safety, as gas lines nearby were leaking.

"We are truly blessed," Tom said. "God had a bubble over us."

The family found their horse, who is now in the care of his breeder, nearby with only a small cut. The family dog was found hiding under a deck.

The clean-up efforts began almost immediately, Mickelson said. Volunteer crews organized by the family's church, the Christian Reformed Church in Willmar, and by Central Minnesota Christian School in Prinsburg, came to help.

They fixed up the only remaining outbuilding on the place as a spot to store what was salvaged. But, that's not much, Tom said.

Most of the tools, construction materials, snowmobiles and equipment are simply gone.

The volunteers came to pick up what was left, he said. As of Friday, contractors had already buried the foundations of the buildings, ground out tree stumps and were leveling a spot for a new building.

"Everyone has been so fabulous," he said, expressing gratitude for the volunteers and contractors, who responded so quickly to the situation. "There have been a lot of miraculous things."

Down the road, Bob and Michelle Sayetta are "hanging in there, between the tears" with their 6- and 8-year-old daughters, Emily and Harmony. They are working 12 hours a day, sometimes more, with various Red Cross and YMCA volunteers to clear and sort debris.

"Where we are right now, compared to a couple of days ago -- it's night and day," Michelle said Monday. "We just want to get things back to normal as soon as possible for our kids; that's the hardest part."

But it's going to be a long time before normality is possible, she said. "We have to tear off the entire second story and roof, and at that point, depending on how many tresses we discover have been damaged, we may have to tear the whole house down."

When the tornado tore through the Sayetta's property, it also took their barn and garage with it. And what was once an indoor pool now lies entirely exposed to the warm summer air, its 13-foot depth littered with "trees and tables and all sorts of strange stuff," Michelle said.

"The day of the storm was so hot and humid, I joked to my wife how nice it would be to have an outdoor pool," Bob said. "It goes to show, be careful what you wish for."

Optimistic to the end, he continued by citing the silver lining in this storm cloud. Most of the damaged areas of the home were original construction and their recent renovations survived.

"All the old is wiped away and the new is here to stay," he said with a bittersweet smile. "We'll make it ours again, one day at a time."

The Sayettas hope to be rebuilt within six weeks. Anyone able to donate lumber or other materials to help them rebuild their barn, which was not covered by insurance, is asked to call 320-214-7565.

For Monica Erickson and her husband, Eric, "it's all just so overwhelming."

When the tornado destroyed their shop, home and sucked out most of their belongings, the family of five barely made it safely to the basement.

For Monica, the life lesson is clear: listen to the weather warnings and do what you're told. "I've heard so many people say they watched the tornado and it was so awesome, but we barely made it downstairs," she said Monday. "I don't understand why someone wouldn't seek shelter ... It's very scary to have to literally push your kids into the basement and almost not make it."

As they wait for insurance adjustors to assign their fates, the Ericksons are currently renting a camper to house their three children and dog, Derby.

But they're grateful for all the support they have received from friends, family and their First Baptist Church clergy and congregation.

"You can't imagine how many people have been out here helping," Erickson said. "Everyone has been just wonderful."

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