OUTING, Minn. -- Sue (Dugan) Moline was 17 years old back in the summer of 1969 when her family was on a two-week vacation on Lake Roosevelt in Outing. On the fourth day of the trip -- Aug. 6, 1969 -- Moline remembers water skiing on a warm, sunny day.
“I was excited to learn how to ski slalom,” Moline recalled.
But she never had a chance. In fact, Moline would never water ski again as her life changed later that day.
The sky around Outing began to cloud up, and about 5 p.m. Moline’s family from Bloomington, along with her extended family and friends, who were staying at the cabins owned by Bethany Fellowship of Bloomington on the lake’s east side, became concerned about the weather.
A tornado was cutting a path across northern Minnesota and intensified to a powerful category F4, with winds of more than 200 mph, as it barreled toward Outing.
“We had no warning,” Moline said. “I was in the cabin, and I remember looking at the window that faced the lake when a neighbor came running in and said, ‘A tornado is coming.’”
A few seconds later, the tornado picked up the one-level cabin and carried it into Lake Roosevelt. Moline was among the 17 people who took shelter inside the cabin, and were now in the lake.
“It lifted our cabin right off the foundation,” she said. “It was like the rug was pulled out from under us and we were in a washing machine. I was underwater and unable to breathe. I thought I was going to die. I was gasping for air when I surfaced in 5-foot waves about 300 feet from shore. I didn’t see another person at first, but then people started popping up.”
Moline eventually made it back to shore, but many others didn’t.
Three members of Moline’s family drowned, including her 19-year old sister, her grandma and her 5-year-old cousin.
“A total of seven people that I knew had died,” Moline said of the storm that killed a total of 15 people as it passed through northern Minnesota. “Other people that we knew from (Bethany Fellowship) were there that day, plus my two uncles’ families were there. It was like a Dugan family reunion.”
On Aug. 11, 1969, Moline and her family returned to Bloomington for a seven-casket funeral.
That tragic experience was something Moline’s family rarely talked about.
“We went home and didn’t talk about it,” she said. “I don’t think any of us knew how to process it.”
After decades of silence, Moline started the conversation in the past couple years.
“About a year ago, I decided to interview all of the survivors that I knew and assemble as much of the story as I could,” she said. “My family has really never talked about their individual experiences, other than to refer to it as ‘the tornado.’ I wanted to hear everyone’s stories, and I started recording the interviews and doing research with the Cass County Historical Society, the Cass County sheriff’s (office), the DNR and local newspapers. It has been a fascinating journey, and also therapeutic. We have many gaps (in memory), but certain things you never forget. I’m trying to collect details and talk about what happened.”
According to DNR records, the Outing tornado is among the five deadliest tornadoes in Minnesota. The top tornado tragedies include: Sauk Rapids (72 deaths in 1886), Fergus Falls (57 in 1919), Rochester (37 in 1883) and Tyler (36 in 1918).
Request for information
Sue Moline would appreciate any photos of the actual tornado or damage afterward, or any eyewitness accounts or memories shared by family or community members. No detail remembered is too small to share. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 952-237-3510.