Chetek Community Reflects On Historic Tornado One Year Later

The tornado hit Barron, Polk, Rusk and Rice counties, winds were estimated at 130 mph and caused more than $10 million in damage.

Chetek, Wis. – One year ago a violent EF-3 tornado struck and ripped apart Chetek, Wisconsin and surrounding communities changing lives forever.

and now the rebuilding process continues.

Most of the damage from the tornado happened here at the Prairie Lakes Estates Trailer Park. You can still see much of them destruction and the piles of trees that still remain.

When tragedy strikes it’s something you can’t forget. On the one year anniversary of the longest on the ground tornado ever recorded in Wisconsin, residents, city leaders and the community came together to reflect at the Chetek Airport Park.

“We wanted to send one more thank you. We couldn’t have done what we did in this county without all of these people working together,” said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald. “They’re coming together from grade school kids donating pennies to businesses taking up collections from their employees to offering services.

The tornado hit Barron, Polk, Rusk and Rice counties, winds were estimated at 130 mph and caused more than $10 million in damage.

“We immediately sent out first responders, our law enforcement, our fire to there and when I pulled up about eight minutes after it struck it was total devastation, like a scene from a movie is what it looked like to me,” said Sheriff Fitzgerald.

One person died during the tornado and Sheriff Fitzgerald says another during the clean up efforts. Chetek Mayor Jeff Martin remembers looking in the sky and hearing sirens going off that day.

“The part that we played in was only a small part was that we provided a lot on our industrial park where the brush site could be set up; for all summer long through May, June, July and Aug. 1,” said Martin. “It was non stop trucks coming in dropping off brush and trees and limbs.”

Residents like Sonja and Brittany Crotteau showed up to have closure. Those who had property damage went home home with a tree as a symbol of growth, but they remember the day vividly.

“We have 40 acres and we were devastated by the tornado on about four miles west of the trailer park,” said Crotteau. “Our shed went down all of our trees in our yard and we had damage to our house.”

Part of the rebuilding process at Prairie Lakes Estates includes a new playground and storm shelter in the future.

The event also was to remember what happened and how the community stepped up to be there for one another.

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