By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
Tornado sirens had already been triggered three times in Kiester, but it was a quick telephone conversation that gave Al Bauman the warning he needed to grab his son and head for cover.
“I had actually called a lady I know about something and she said, ‘You better get off the phone and get into the basement because there’s a tornado coming and I can see it,’ ” Bauman said Thursday night.
That was about 6:10 p.m. A short time later the small Faribault County town of about 550 people was heavily damaged by what witness described as an enormous tornado.
According to initial reports Thursday, Kiester was probably the worst hit community in south central Minnesota. Many funnel clouds were reported, however, throughout the region.
Electricity was still out in Kiester at about 9 p.m. Bauman, who lives on Highway 22 on the north edge of town, said the road was barricaded and no one was being allowed in. A man who answered the telephone at the town’s Fire Department said people there were busy checking homes and cleaning up.
Other media reports said there was serious damage west of Kiester. Bauman said he had heard a house west of town on Faribault County Road 2 had been seriously damaged.
It was the west side of Kiester that received most of the damage, Bauman added.
Highway 22, where he lives, is First Street. His parents live on the opposite side of town on Eighth Street. There were so many trees and power lines down in that area that his parents would have had to walk several blocks to evacuate their house. Firefighters were asking them to do so because a tree had fallen on an liquid propane gas tank, causing it to leak.
“It didn’t look too bad outside our house,” Bauman said. “But my son and I drove around town. We got to Fifth Street and it was bad. Then we got to Sixth Street and there were trees on houses. By the time we got to my parents’ house, it looked terrible.
“The whole town is out of power. The only reason I have power is I have a generator.”
There were also several National Weather Service reports of funnel clouds that were either seen or showed up on radar in and around Blue Earth County. One of those sightings was near St. Clair.
Renae Ireland was working at Mitt’s BP convenience store off Highway 83 and saw the odd-looking cloud south of town.
“There was a wall cloud right there,” she said as she pointed south during a brief break in the weather. “It was circling, coming down, then going back up again.”
A family that said they were traveling to Austin stopped at the store for cover. They told Ireland it was raining hard between St. Clair and Mankato.
“They had little kids with them and they were worried,” she said.
While Ireland was watching the wall cloud from the north, Ashley Klossner was in Beauford watching the weather front from the back side. The trained weather spotter took pictures of the dark clouds.
“If it sticks together, it’s got a lot of potential to do some damage,” she said.
Another large cloud southwest of St. Clair drew the attention of weather spotters later. The National Weather Service had reported a rotation on radar.
There were no initial reports of serious damage in Blue Earth County Thursday night. Damage reports in Mankato were mainly limited to downed trees and broken power lines. A few were temporarily flooded. A tree blocked traffic on Glenwood Avenue, resulting in traffic being diverted up Glenview Avenue.
John Stephanie was sitting in his house behind the Kato Ballroom in the 1700 block of First Avenue when he heard a loud noise. He didn’t realize until he went outside that a heavy wind had knocked over a pine tree and taken limbs out of two other trees.
“It ripped the roots and everything right out of the ground,” he said.