A tornado, up close and personal

These photographs, shot by Sean Stavast, show the aftermath of today’s storm in the neighborhood around the 4600, 4700 and 4800 blocks of Park Avenue.

Something powerful roared through my south Minneapolis neighborhood at 1:52 p.m. today. I never heard my wife scream like she did. I hope to God I never do again.

If this wasn’t a tornado, I don’t want to know what is. I was upstairs working on my laptop, a steady rain pattering on the roof, when I heard a muscular roar of wind. I’ve been through two hurricanes, but nothing sounded as intense as this. I ran to close the nearest open window, fearful the wind might blow a bucketful of rain into the house.

That’s when I heard a crash, and my wife scream.

By the time I ran down the stairs — it took maybe five seconds — the roar had subsided.

We were lucky. The wind knocked over our patio table, shattering the glass top in a million pieces. Some leaves and small braches landed in the yard, and the force of the wind flattened leaves against our garage door. That’s all the damage I can see so far, though I haven’t checked our roof for missing shingles.

Our neighbors on Park Avenue, one block away, weren’t so lucky. By the damage I saw, the tornado — that’s what the weather people are calling it now — appeared to run straight down Park, uprooting trees between 47th and 48th streets. A huge, old maple at the corner of 48th and Park had been yanked out of the ground, as if pulled by a giant hand. Trees crashed onto or through multiple roofs on the west side of Park. A neighbor who rode her bicycle home from downtown reported similar damage to homes along Portland Avenue south of S. 42nd Street.

Another huge tree fell across 47th Street between Oakland Avenue and Park; police have blocked off the impassible street.

Tom Clark, a meteorologist for television station WNEP in Moosic, Penn., captured video of a tornado moving across south Minneapolis with his iPhone on August 19, 2009. Posted at YouTube by MPR.

We never heard a warning siren before the storm hit. Neither did my neighbors. It went off after the tornado passed. 

Minneapolis police responded quickly. One young officer walked though our yard making sure everyone was all right. Xcel Energy restored power to our neighborhood around 4 p.m.

But already, we have gawkers with cell phone cameras driving through the neighborhood viewing the damage, and vultures from tree services passing out their business cards on the street. Are you serious? Give it a rest, all of you.

And here’s the amazing part: Two blocks east of Park, in the business district at 48th and Chicago Avenue, you’d never know anything happened. Not a petal missing from the hanging plants on the lamppost, not a splinter of wood in the street. At 4:45 p.m., the sun is trying to come out. Now, I think we can breathe.

I think I’ll go home and hug my wife.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 08/19/2009 - 06:43 pm.

    Immediately you guys had the best photos. You were better than WCCO, STRIB, MPR. How do you guys do it do you have Hi Def or enhanced pixels?

  2. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 08/20/2009 - 11:52 am.

    “Already we have gawkers. Give it a rest…”

    Why do I pull out this statement out of the whole coverage of the story? Well, it is a question no one has ever answered sufficiently, about the human response to disaster; tragedies that do not touch us but do receive some momentary gratification in the “gawking”…could be, there-by-the-grace in the watching?

    Some years ago a huge storm hit the big lake here, washing away our backyard dune…lost birches, evergreens in that one. Almost lost a spouse clinging to a tree as a large wave washed our deck. But later as we filled sand bags bought from the local Coast Guard, crowds gathered with cameras and oohs and aahs were blowing in the wind by the ‘gawkers. Even upstairs renter stood at a safe distance watching the angry lake slowly wash away our backyard. Cameras were the tool-of-the-day. I was amazed and puzzled at the phenomena of gawking stalkers then; but experienced wonder and laughter too at the weird response of those who gather after…

    A few years ago a massive blizzard dumped snow so deep it filled the front porch clear to the roof, the driveway; the street itself and before the snowplows had widened the street – eight, ten feet high drifts; telephone pole height almost – yet, came the ‘gawkers’ down to see the storm damage. Shoveling was a difficult accomplishment with cars bumper to bumper with but a narrow snowplowed path defining the street.

    I felt no amazement this time, but still, what is it about disaster without being involved or personally affected that fascinates us humans? I laughed again, then, watching the gawkers…I, gawking at the gawkers.

    min-moral footnote:

    Take this one step furthur and find an answer? Take the ‘gawking’ syndrome and we may be able to to understand our ability to see death and dying that continues overseas as we continue to battle wars, un-natural disasters to be sure, but of our own making but disasters none the less, for whatever justified or unjustified reasons. The bloodier the better for we gawkers from our living rooms…a safe distance? Is it just more-of-same gawker-fascination? Is that why we tolerate it so easily and switch it off at will? Is there relief because it’s them not us? I can’t figure it out…so maybe the wise word is…”give it a rest”…

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 08/20/2009 - 03:29 pm.

    Good spot news reporting for a “deliberative” journal.

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