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Emergency Mutual Aid

By Staff | May 28, 2008

“Even though they lost everything, they were thankful to be alive.”

This was the true-to-life comment from Emmet County Management Coordinator Terry Reekers who responded to a mutual aid call on Monday to Parkersburg, the town virtually destroyed by Sunday’s tornado.

The three-quarter-mile-wide tornado struck Parkersburg at 4:59 p.m. and Reekers was on site 8 a.m. Memorial Day.

“Emergency management received a call from the state Emergency Operation Center Sunday evening for mutual aid response,” he said.

Six county emergency management coordinators in close proximity to Butler County were the first to respond. Reekers and five other EM coordinators from the counties of Humboldt, Bremer, Cerro Gordo, Fayette and Howard relieved the initial team 8 a.m. Monday.

Two of the six were dispatched to the Butler Emergency Operations Center, Reekers and another EM coordinator were sent to the Resource Center-Food and Shelter Site located in the VFW building.

“This building was one of the larger buildings still left standing,” Reekers said. The other two worked the Incident Commander Center.

Working a 12-hour shift, Reekers said it was “very humbling. It really strengthens my belief in fellow man when help arrives. That’s one thing about the Midwest–you know help is coming.”

Some of Reeker’s duties included assisting the American Red Cross with feeding requirements (hundreds were fed from the morning until suppertime); offering rehabilitation to rescuers wearing turnout gear who were overcome with heat; maintaining a spreadsheet of lost and missing persons; and assisting with pharmaceutical needs for the elderly.

His statistics show:

n Casualties totaled four in Parkersburg (two in New Hartford).

n Two were critically injured with over 700 sustaining injuries.

n A total of 222 homes were destroyed. Entire blocks were flattened.

n Over 400 dwellings sustained major damage.

n The twister destroyed 21 businesses.

n The town’s only grocery store and gasoline station were destroyed.

Reekers said the National Weather Service called the Butler emergency management as radar was indicating a tornado was heading toward Parkersburg.

Soon thereafter NOAA Weather Radio was activated and the siren warning was sounded.

“The local media was on top of it too.”

He added, “Mutual aid is from county to county and we don’t go unless it’s requested. It was nice to see local agencies working together regardless of color of uniform or jurisdiction.”

Reekers said there were stories of local heroes, from high school kids to neighbors, pulling people from debris and getting first aid despite gas leaks and hot power lines.

“This is why we work so hard in schools with practice and drills; so when they are adults and parents, these students will know what to do.”

Once the second shift concluded, the crew was replaced by yet-another six-man team and Reekers made the return trip to Emmet County late Monday night.

He reminded the last tornado to strike Estherville was in 1936.

“The farther away you are from the last disaster, the closer you are to the next one.”