Residents survey damage, count blessings in RollaROLLA — The house that the Leas family had lived in looked as if a giant hand had squished it.
By: Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald
ROLLA — The house that the Leas family had lived in looked as if a giant hand had squished it.
Two walls were splayed out in the yard and two remaining walls were warped and pocked. The roof was gone, stolen by the tornado that roared through the town’s north end Monday afternoon.
On one side, you could see that the family had painted each room a different color. One room is sky blue, one khaki, one pine green.
There seemed to be nothing left inside that wasn’t smashed.
On Tuesday, Sheri Leas said she’d managed to recover family photos and videos from the wreckage. But gone are the china and Depression-era glass bestowed by her mother, who died four years ago, she said.
The Leas’ was the single hardest hit home here.
City officials said nine others suffered extensive damage as well, along with many others with varying levels of damage, from lost shingles to holes in the roof left there by high-velocity tree branches.
Only the cat, Hunter, was at home, Leas said, and it survived. The rest of the family, her husband, Craig, and children, Miranda, 13, and Logan, 11, were out of the house.
Gov. John Hoeven toured the area Tuesday morning, dispensing sympathetic words and hugs to whoever was there.
The bright blue sky Tuesday betrayed none of the violence of the earlier day. Authorities said six tornadoes roared through northern Rollette County, from west of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa reservation to some-where east of Rolla.
But the worst of the damage here was confined to the area around 12th Avenue Northeast. Much of the rest of the city seemed untouched.
“The damage is bad, don’t get me wrong,” said police Chief Thomas Allard. “But it could’ve been a heck of a lot worse.”
Had the tornado’s path been a quarter mile further south, it might have threatened a hospital, a day care and an assisted-living facility.
“If we had to have a tornado, it couldn’t have been any better,” said county Commissioner Eldon Moors. “We didn’t lose any lives.”
The only person hurt in Rolla was Todd Griffin, a firefighter who said he was on his way to block a road when the wind picked up his pickup and rolled it 30 feet down the road. It just came out of nowhere, he said.
But it didn’t stop him from going back to work.
Tuesday, Todd looked none the worse for wear with just some bloody stitches on his close-shaven head.
As the governor toured the north end, residents were out and about assessing damage and talking with neighbors.
Across the street from the Leas were the Bonsnesses, Doug and Sharon, who also were not home when the tornado struck.
They had a new patio where their bedroom and kitchen had been. The walls were gone to who knows where, but the mattress, the fridge and the stove still were there.
“Just about everything is damaged,” Doug said. “I’m sure it can be replaced.”
“It can be replaced,” he repeated, “that’s the thing.”
Further down the street, a duplex had its front wall sheared. Outside a “For Lease” sign still stood.
Police Sgt. Tony Sims said a man had just moved in recently.
At the Peltiers’, an enormous tree fell next to the house but didn’t touch it, for which Shelly Peltier was thankful. She was more thankful that her sons Shayne, 15, and Seth, 11, emerged from the basement unharmed.
The first Shayne heard of the storm was when his cousin called to say he’d just escaped the storm and saw that it was headed for Rolla.
“Dude, I’m freaking out!” Seth said, quoting the cousin.
Shayne said he worried that his brother was at the park, where he usually played. But found him at home and rushed him into the basement with a blanket to cover them both.
“I heard strong winds outside and things crashing against the wall,” he said. “I couldn’t hear very well because my ears were popping, the pressure was dropping.”
His brother was scared, he said, so “I tried to think of funny things and calm my brother down.”
“All I did was pray and cry and cry,” Shelly said after finding her sons safe. “Last night, I couldn’t sleep. So much nervous energy.”
The Grand Forks Herald and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.