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Damage from tornado to homes in Spicer estimated to be around $150,000

Debris is all that remains of Chuck Stockland's barn after a tornado Tuesday raked through his farmstead south of Spicer. Tribune photo by Anne Polta

SPICER -- There isn't much left of Chuck Stockland's barn or garage after a tornado raked through his farm Tuesday afternoon southwest of Spicer.

But the wedge-shaped space is still visible in a corner of the barn, where Stockland's quarter horse huddled after being trapped when the building collapsed on top of him.

The 16-year-old horse, whose name is Poncho, was freed Tuesday night by a team of about 30 rescue workers, sheriff's deputies and firefighters from the Willmar and Spicer fire departments.

He was unharmed except for some minor scratches, Stockland said.

"We just walked him to the neighbors," he said.

On Wednesday, Stockland, his rural neighbors and the town of Spicer were assessing the damage and beginning to clean up. The funnel traveled seven or eight miles, from southwest of Spicer to the east side of Green Lake.

Damage to homes in Spicer has been initially estimated at $150,000, city administrator Leslie Valiant said Wednesday.

Two homes had major roof damage, she said.

The city sustained another $150,000 in damage to its ball fields and to the Dethlefs Senior Center, Valiant said. The majority of the damage is at the ballpark, where fences, batting cages and signs were blown down.

The storm cut a swath across the south end of Spicer, where most of the damage occurred. A few blocks north, at City Hall, employees didn't even hear the noise, Valiant said.

The tornado's path was relatively narrow, which helped minimize the damage to one section of town, she said. But because the damage isn't widespread, the city isn't eligible for any disaster assistance to help with the cleanup.

For town residents, it means they'll have to dispose of downed branches themselves.

"They'll have to take it to the county landfill," said Valiant.

She said she spoke Wednesday morning to the staff at the landfill, and the landfill "is more than ready" to handle the extra brush.

City crews put up barricades Tuesday night in the worst-hit area of town. By 7 a.m. Wednesday, maintenance workers were busy cleaning up branches.

"At least it wasn't the whole town," said Tom Moritz, assistant public works director.

He and a crew had just finished clearing the brush that filled the city's Beach Street tennis courts. Their next stop: the city ball fields, where the damage was more severe.

"That's going to take awhile," Moritz said. "But we'll slowly get it."

Along 97th Avenue southwest of Spicer, the tornado's path could be traced by the broken trees and debris along the roadside and in the ditches.

Several large oak trees and a cedar fence were destroyed at Craig and Lori Schellberg's home. Lori Schellberg and the couple's 16-year-old son, Grant, were home Tuesday afternoon when the storm hit.

"I had the radio and the TV on," she said. "We went to the basement."

When they emerged, they saw the house was undamaged -- but their shed, which houses two horses, had lost part of its roof and one of the doors.

"Nobody got hurt. The horses didn't get a scratch," Schellberg said.

Across the road, however, Poncho was pinned inside the wreckage of the Stocklands' barn.

The barn "moved about four feet and dropped," said Chuck Stockland. He and his son, Eric, figure Poncho was trapped for at least three hours.

Eric Stockland, who lives in Spicer and saw the tornado cut a path through his neighborhood, was the first to arrive at the farm afterward and see what was left of the barn.

"I didn't think there could be an animal alive in that corner," he said.

It took about an hour and a half until the horse was freed. Rescuers had to work gingerly under a roof that was so unsteady it threatened to collapse.

The Stocklands' farmhouse was still intact, although some shingles were peeled off the roof and the doors were damaged. The garage was gone and several trees, some of them a century old, were destroyed.

The Schellbergs are temporarily caring for Poncho. The horse was "a little jumpy" Tuesday night but appeared calmer on Wednesday, Lori Schellberg said.

"The horse was very lucky he came out with just a couple of scratches," she said. "A lot of power came through here. It makes us humans look pretty weak."

Chuck Stockland said he was impressed with people's willingness to help.

"We're not alone," he said. "A lot of people are in the same spot."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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