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Storms kill 3 in Minnesota

Photo by Pat Christman

Photo by Pat Christman

ALBERT LEA, Minn. -- As tornadoes bore down on southern Minnesota, Angie Woodside called her in-laws and said they should rush to her house west of Albert Lea, where there was a basement to take cover. Her mother-in-law, Kathy Woodside, refused.

''She told me she would not go down in one,'' Angie Woodside said Friday, a day after Kathy was killed when a tornado tossed her 200 feet from her house into a nearby field. ''She just thought the whole thing would collapse on top of her. She would rather not be underneath everything.''

Kathy Woodside, 66, was one of three people killed Thursday by a turbulent system that fueled twisters across Minnesota. Also killed were two northwestern Minnesota residents: Margie Schulke, 79, of Almora, whose home was destroyed by a tornado; and Wes Michaels, 58, of Mentor, whose gas station was leveled.

Dozens more were injured, including Kathy Woodside's husband, Ron, who was hospitalized Friday in Rochester. The storms damaged several hundred homes and buildings and toppled trees and power lines. The most serious damage was in the northwestern Minnesota city of Wadena, where officials reported 232 homes were hit, and in a rural area just west of Albert Lea, where about 60 rural properties saw damage.

State officials reported 39 tornado touchdowns. If that figure is confirmed, it would exceed the previous state record of 27 sightings in one day, in 1992.

More severe weather rolled through the Midwest on Friday, with hail, heavy rain and wind gusts up to 80 mph reported in Iowa and Illinois.

Residents of Wadena, a town of about 4,300 people 70 miles southeast of Fargo, N.D., were allowed back into their homes on a case-by-case basis Friday. City crews were clearing debris and lumber from the streets, and Mayor Wayne Wolden said cleanup efforts likely would not start in earnest until today.

''For whatever reason, the tornado decided to sit down on Wadena,'' Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Friday afternoon, as he toured the storm damage. Pawlenty activated 118 Minnesota National Guard soldiers to assist with security and traffic controls in the worst-hit areas.

Officials said 34 people were treated at the local hospital for storm-related injuries. Most were bumps and bruises, and by Friday morning only one person remained hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening.

But the property damage was extensive. Destruction was centered in an established neighborhood of 1940s-era homes and mature oak, pine and birch trees.

''The sad part is a lot of these were 100-year-old trees,'' said Doug Wolff, who returned to his property Friday to find the top part of his bungalow's roof ripped off. ''They're all gone now.''

The town pool was destroyed, the high school was badly damaged and a school bus yard was left with buses flipped and shredded.