Riding out the storm
NEW LONDON - By the time the siren sounded at Kandiyohi County Park 7 on Games Lake around 1:30 Friday morning, the wind was howling, trees and branches were falling, the beach sand was flying and rain was pelting campers as they ran to the storm shelter.
"Everyone was crying. My legs were shaking," said Shelly Helfenstein, of Richmond, recounting how she and her family and friends responded to the middle-of-the night storm that rolled through northern Kandiyohi County bringing powerful straight-line winds that chased campers out of their RVs and tents and into the reinforced bathhouse.
"A tree fell right down in front of us," said Jesse Laudenbach, of Kimball, who gathered his crew into a truck and drove them to the shelter to wait out the storm, which blasted the area with strong winds for more than an hour.
"All we could hear was a big roar," said Dave Agre, of Renville, who was in a pop-up camper with his wife. "We looked out the window and we couldn't see anything ... everything was just flying by."
Weighing the danger of staying in the camper or making a run across the park to the shelter, Agre said they opted to stay put for most of the storm.
The camper was "shaking back and forth," said Agre, who was waiting Friday morning for crews to clear downed trees from the roads in the park so that he could go home after a week of camping at the park. "We had good weather up to now," he said with a grin.
Stacy and Wanita Rohne, and their 10-year-old daughter Chalese, of Redwood Falls, had some minor injuries from branches as they ran to the shelter, where they found other campers with a few bruises and cuts but otherwise in good spirits.
"It was one way to meet the neighbors you're camping with," said Wanita Rohne. "It was scary, but we made it."
The run to the shelter was made extra stressful for the Rohne family when their dog, Jazzy, slipped out of her collar and refused to budge. The collar was put back on and the family eventually got Jazzy to trudge with them through the wind and debris. The dog proved to be a comfort to the children in the shelter who were kept busy petting her, said Wanita.
The park lost several large trees that were snapped off at the base, and numerous branches. One large branch fell on an RV and punctured a hole in the roof.
Crews worked quickly to get the branches removed from the camping area so that campers ending their week at the park could leave and others could get into the park to begin their stay.
With unsettled weather predicted for the rest of the weekend, several campers said they were going to be keeping a close watch on the forecast and were considering sleeping elsewhere at night to avoid another scramble to safety.
A good eight hours after the storm hit, Rita Olson, who manages the park along with her husband Gary, said she was still shaking from the events of the fast-moving storm.
Olson said that a minute or two after she received the phone message that tornado-like winds of 90 mph could be hitting the park, the siren sounded.
But by then the winds were too strong for the couple to open the doors to the park house where they live and they were unable to get to the shelter.
"It was just so fast," said Olson. "It just raged."
By 4 a.m. the Olsons checked with all the campers to make sure everyone was OK.
"We're just happy everyone is safe," said Olson. "When we don't have anybody hurt, that's the important thing."
Down the road a bit on the south shore of Norway Lake, Ron Turbes and his sister Diane Kastner, of Sanborn, were sitting on the porch looking at the front yard that was filled will the metal roof from the house. The metal sheets were also wrapped around trees and hanging from branches 20-25 feet up in the air.
"The whole house just shook," said Kastner. "I thought it was all going to go."