Rusk County shows community spirit after historic Wisconsin tornado

County By County

RUSK COUNTY, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Though it’s hundreds of miles away from tornado alley, Rusk County has seen some strong storms hit its communities.

Today, in County by County, First News at Nine’s Maria Blough takes a look at what happens when mother nature comes calling.

Part of a building hanging on a wire, a sink sitting in the grass, a pile of wood and metal, all the aftermath of a tornado that traveled through rusk county on May 16, 2017.

Jeff Wallace, Rusk Co. Sheriff said, “When it went through, I was in Bruce monitoring the storm and we could see, see the clouds.”

Jeff Wallace has been the sheriff of rusk county since 20-15. Though he never saw the tornado itself. Wallace does remember the damage.

Wallace said, “We did have 10 families that needed to be sheltered during that time because of their homes being severely damaged. We actually really ended up with no injuries which were pretty amazing.”

In addition to homes in Conrath, the tornado damaged some farms along its path. By the time the tornado hit this community though. It’d already been on the ground for miles.

Early in the afternoon it first touched down in Polk County.

It then traveled through Barron and into Rusk County never lifting off the ground until reaching price county.

Meteorologist Darren Maier said, “It maintained a very high intensity for a good part of that track. A lot of times it was bouncing between an Ef2 and Ef3 tornado and that was really what made it very memorable for being so strong and for being on the ground for that long especially here in Wisconsin.”

Maier says the tornado that day set a record as the longest track tornado in Wisconsin’s history staying on the ground for 83 miles.

For many reasons, Maier will always remember this storm but what matters the most to him was working to keep people safe.

“We knew right away, very early in its infancy that it was on the ground. We got word very quickly from the national weather service and that alerted us made it very urgent because we wanted to get the word out right away obviously if it’s on the ground that’s the situation which is most dangerous, and people are going to be in the path of that,” said Maier.

With the help of those warnings, Conrath was able to escape the storm with no deaths.

For Wallace, despite what was lost in the storm, a spirit of helping others wasn’t shaken.

“We had a lot of volunteer clean ups that helped things go a lot smoother. People just again came together as a community and helped each other out and until everyone was cleared out,” said Wallace.

How this community pulls together after any event, Wallace says, makes it a great small town to live in.

For County by County, Maria Blough First News at Nine.

After the storm, the tornado that hit rusk county was ranked an EF3.

95 percent of tornados in the U.S. never reach that level of intensity according to the national oceanic and atmospheric administration.

In Rusk County the storm created more than 2 million dollars’ worth of damage.

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