June 11, 2007

Tornado smashes into Cokato 15 years ago

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Wright County Deputy Tom Baumgard knew, when he saw tires moving and floating in the air toward him, that the storm that hit Cokato 15 years ago June 16 was no ordinary thunderstorm.

“The tires went behind me and took out all those cars where the senior citizens live,” Baumgard said in an Enterprise Dispatch interview June 23, 1992.

The tires Baumgard saw were from the alley between Harju Tire and Boger’s True Value, what is now being prepared for Neisen Liquors.

“I just crossed (Broadway) and heard the calls for the alarms in State Bank, and I looked back, and there weren’t any windows - nothing. I watched the roof of the building across the street come down, and that was about the time we got the call a house was flattened,” Baumgard said.

What Baumgard was seeing was a tornado June 16, 1992, that ripped through town, injuring nine people, destroying 12 homes, toppling grand old trees and devastating businesses.

The destruction began in the Lamson area, where officials surmised the tornado first touched down. It was about 11 p.m. With the horizontal rain and darkness, no one could see it. The tornado took out several barns in Lamson and Stockholm Township before it crashed into Cokato. Then it roughly followed Wright County Road 4 to the northeast.

The tornado ended by 11:30 p.m., but left a staggering mess behind.

The Cokato ambulance took five people to Meeker County Memorial Hospital, and the Howard Lake ambulance took five people to Health One in Buffalo.

The most obvious destruction was to Cokato Elementary School. The east wall burst from pressure. The roof also was torn from Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church.

The tornado stabbed two thin boards, each three-feet long, into the brick storefront of Big Bear. Over half the trees at least 20 feet tall were lost, according to the fire chief, Keith Asfeld.

Gas leaks and fire were a major concern for emergency responders. However, live power lines and debris blocked the responders’ way in every direction.

“The real heroes were the firemen. They did everything. One minute they were checking for injuries, the next they were going door-to-door to make sure people were safe, shutting off gas, pulling lines, flipping over cars. They would drop off their coats, grab chain saws, and start cutting trees,” Baumgard said.

“They really did a lot. (Cokato) has a lot to be proud of,” he added.

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