The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 18, 2013

Local residents relieved their Illinois, Indiana families are safe

By Edie Schmierbach

---- — NORTH MANKATO — While listening to news reports early Sunday morning about a powerful storm system sweeping the Midwest, Tammy Ellis of North Mankato was thinking of her daughter in Illinois.

"I had a feeling everything was going to be OK.”

Sarah Ellis called about 11 a.m. to let her family know she was safe — so was her house and dog. That's when her mom's emotions kicked in.

"I was in shock all day Sunday," Tammy Ellis said. "Today I am all jittery. There are people who lost their homes, who lost everything. I keep thinking about them.”

A graduate of West High School, Sarah Ellis, 28, lives in Washington, Ill., east of Peoria. She was working out at a rec center when one of the storm system's multiple tornadoes first smashed through her city. Several neighborhoods were destroyed and at least one person died.

Ellis, a pharmacist, had been at her job before she went to the center Sunday afternoon. After the storm cleared, Ellis anxiously headed home to check on her golden retriever. Her vehicle's tires were punctured while driving on debris-covered roads and when she got near her neighborhood, streets were blocked off.

"I had to walk about a mile to my house," Ellis said.

Sunday night, Ellis used a gas fireplace to keep warm. There was no electricity and it was a "boil water" situation. Monday, she was told the central gas line in the subdivision could be shut off, so she went to stay at a friend's place.

"All of my co-workers are in the same spot — staying with someone else," Ellis said. There are a lot of people who have it worse. They have no homes to go home to."

The powerful late-season storm also hit Indiana on Sunday.

Monday morning, Ruby Mehr of Mankato started getting emailed messages and dramatic photographs from her family members who witnessed heavy damage to the north-central part of the state. Mehr's brother, five nieces and five nephews who live in the Kokomo area were not harmed when a tornado ripped through the city.

A former resident of Indiana, Mehr said she is concerned for her many friends and other residents of the region hit by the storm's high winds, hail and heavy rains.

Sarah Ellis is scheduled to be back at work today. Mike and Tammy Ellis' Thanksgiving plans are to travel to Illinois to visit their daughter and other relatives.

Tammy Ellis' gratitude for Sarah's safety has transformed into action. She is reaching out to help storm victims by contacting her church to see what help is available. Ellis called the American Red Cross office in Mankato and was told the organization's first wave of volunteers was already at work in Illinois and a second wave would be sent out soon.

“We were notified at 6:15 a.m. today (Monday) to get our crews ready,” said Bob Meyer, executive director of the South Central Minnesota American Red Cross. “Local drivers and trucks are waiting on standby. However, most roads aren't yet open in the disaster areas.”

Donations for storm relief may be sent to the local Red Cross office, 105 Homestead Road, Mankato, MN 56001; or made online at:

People who want to contribute the The Salvation Army's relief efforts may send donations to: 700 S. Riverfront Drive, Mankato, MN 56001.

Checks made out to either organization should have “Midwest tornadoes” written on their memo lines.