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Tornado leaves Winona cemetery reeling with extensive tree damage

WINONA, Minn. (FOX 47) — Residents in Winona were greeted with a shock this morning. An undetected tornado touched down briefly at the Woodlawn Cemetery, leaving a line of damage in its path.

Almost out of nowhere the tornado wrecked havoc around 6:20 Wednesday morning. It lasted only a minute, but Woodlawn officials say they’ll be feeling this damage for quite some time.

Woodlawn Cemetery, Winona
Woodlawn Cemetery entrance in Winona.

“Kind of like a bomb went off,” Woodlawn Cemetery Board President Tom Slaggie explained.

He wasn’t at the cemetery when a tornado came barreling through with peak wind speeds at 95 mph, but surveying the damage left him in total shock.

“It’s really unbelievable, it’s something that it’s like *sound effects* down she came down the valley,” continued Slaggie.

The Woodlawn Cemetery has been in Winona since 1862 and is the largest cemetery in the city, with some of the trees occupying the land, ranging from 50 to 100 years old.

“And 95 miles per hour and it took the old trees. I can’t believe when you’ve got a tree two, three, four feet in diameter and it just knocks it down like match sticks,” said Slaggie.

The storm appeared so quickly, the National Weather Service of La Crosse didn’t even see it coming and no sirens sounded in Winona.

Woodlawn Cemetery, Winona
Crews work to clear fallen trees at Woodlawn Cemetery in Winona, following an EF-1 tornado.

Winona County Emergency Management Coordinator Ben Klinger said, “What I’ve been informed talking to the National Weather Service is this was on the front end of a sqall line of storms and it spun up really quickly and dissipated just as fast. So they didn’t even see it originally on radar until they got reports of damage and went back and looked and then they saw the small signature of this.”

Due to the non-profit classification of the cemetery, it isn’t eligible to receive state emergency relief aid.

“Now we come into the recover phase of an incident after an incident is over, so what I’ve been doing with this, I reported to the state, homeland security and management and I’ve been working with the recovery coordinator to see if this qualifies for state disaster assistance or not and I was just informed it does not qualify, because of it not being public property or a certain type of non-profit,” explained Klinger.

Without state aid it makes it even harder to recover from the tornado. Slaggie estimates it will cost about $150,000 – $200,000. Marking the biggest incident in the cemetery’s more than 150 years.

Woodlawn Cemetery, Winona
Woodlawn Cemetery in Winona after being hit by an EF-1 tornado Wednesday morning

“No, this is kind of the biggest thing that I can recall,” said Slaggie.

He went on to say all major monuments in the cemetery avoided damage, but they will need help in the form of donations and grants to get back to normal.

Klinger also urges the public to stay away from the cemetery grounds at this time, until everything is cleaned up and all hazards removed.

Unrelated to the tornado, a power line went down and some residents were without power for a short time.

Holden Krusemark

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