Tornado causes major damage in southern Minnesota community

Bedrooms are exposed as debris litters the outside of the building.
Severe storms removed walls and the roof of a residence Tuesday in Taopi, Minnesota. Residents of the small southern Minnesota town surveyed the damage on Wednesday.
Catharine Richert | MPR News

Updated: 5 p.m.

Severe storms — including a tornado touchdown with estimated peak winds of more than 130 mph — wrecked homes and left two people injured late Tuesday in the southern Minnesota community of Taopi.

"The whole town is gone, basically," Scott Attle said Wednesday morning as he surveyed the wreckage of the home where he lived — now without exterior walls or a roof. Authorities closed off public access to the area as they worked to clear downed power lines.

The National Weather Service office in La Crosse, Wis., which covers Mower County where Taopi is located, said survey crews in the field Wednesday reported the damage was from an EF2 tornado that tracked for more than seven miles in less than 10 minutes, starting just before 10:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Crews also confirmed a tornado touchdown that damaged farm buildings and trees southwest of Spring Valley — that one an EF1 with estimated peak winds of 100 mph.

But the damage was most severe in Taopi, a community of several dozen people located along State Highway 56, about 30 miles south-southwest of Rochester and just a few miles north of the Iowa state line.

Attle was in the garage at his girlfriend's home in Taopi and stepped into the house just seconds before the late-night storm swept the structure away. He said he got into the basement just as all the windows blew out. The walls of the home were gone when he emerged.

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Angie Schmitz and her husband, Bill, were in their two-story home Tuesday night and said they'd been watching the weather — and thought all the storms had passed through just after 10 p.m. They went to bed, and minutes later another storm hit, tearing off the side of their house.

"We were laying there for maybe five minutes, maybe 10, and he heard something. We felt the bed move, so we grabbed clothes and went to the steps and just held each other while the wall came down," she recounted.

She watched Wednesday morning as a forklift pulled some items from the open second floor of the home.

Jeremy Kiefer, whose family farms cattle near Taopi, said the storm approached suddenly as he and his family were already in bed.

"It got real windy, and then all of the sudden it got real quiet, and then within a couple of seconds, stuff started hitting our house, and then part of our roof was gone," he told MPR News on Wednesday morning.

Kiefer and his family were unharmed, but he said metal roofing and siding was scattered all over the area and dozens of his family's cattle were missing, some of them wandering through the area as the sun came up.

"We have cattle running around town, out by the highway," he said. "We don't know how many we're missing yet, but we're going to try to locate them all this morning, so no one gets hurt, and they don't either."

Mower County Emergency Manager Amy Lammey said a number of houses lost roofs and that one house was blown off its foundation in Taopi.

Lammey said two people had to be helped out of their damaged homes and were taken to a hospital, but their injuries were believed to be minor.

Tornadoes were also reported Tuesday as storms moved across northern Iowa.

Elsewhere in southern Minnesota, Tuesday night's storms also caused wind damage in the Spring Valley and Winona areas and dropped golf-ball-size hail near Mankato.