Lake Tomahawk, WI tornado Apr 1984


Special to The Journal, AP

Lake Tomahawk, Wis. - Although residents in this area have done a great deal toward cleaning up the damage from last week's tornados, there are "weeks more of digging out ahead," according to one resident.

Oneida County still is reeling from the twisters that left about $12.8 million worth of damage in this rural county. The Oneida County damage was by the far the most extensive in the state and made up about half of the state's total damage estimate of $25 million.

Even with the damage, including about $7 million in homes, Beverly Fagan, Lake Tomahawk town clerk, said the area was lucky.

"A lot of these homes that were destroyed were summer and vacation homes and didn't have people in them," she said Thursday. "If the storms had hit even this coming weekend, I'm sure it would have been much more disastrous in therms of human injuries."

The tornados killed one Onieda County man, Ray Sloan, Sr., of Fawn Lake Lodge, north of Rhinelander.

A great deal of the rest of the damage from the storms was to the timber resources in the area.

"We've had trees down all over the place, everywhere you look," said Irene Thorn, of the Onieda County Emergency Government.

Thorn said that downed trees had closed off roads and made cleaning up efforts painstakingly slow.

"There were so many trees down that some places you couldn't even tell where the road was, they were covered solid," she said.

"They [workers] just had to feel their way through, chop through the trees one at a time unitl you could get to they bottom layer and say, 'Oh, so this is where the road is.' "

Thorn said that most of the county's main roads were now clear, but that some side roads and private drives might still be closed in places.

But, Fagan said, the tragedy of the tornados brought out the best in the community.

"As soon as the storm was over we started getting offers from people who had extra beds or rooms to put the homeless up in," she said. "But we didn't have to use any of them because neighbors and friends all helped each other out with places to stay."

Fagan said that the town had been collecting food and clothing for the storm victims and distributing it from the town's fire house. However, she said, the clothing had been moved to the Lake Tomahawk Bible Church and the food distributed to storm victims.

When Gov. Earl took a tour Wednesday of the areas hit by the tornados he said he was impressed by the positive attitude of the survivors of the storm.

Earl told reporters he felt the state had a good chance of qualifying for federal disaster assistance because of the amount of damage to public property and the widespread locations hit by Friday's storms, including the tornados that killed three people.

Earl, accompanied by various other officials, visited the Lake Tomahawk area of Oneida County after touring damage at Keshena in Menominee County earlier in the day.

"The first impression one has is to be totally disheartened by seeing the enormous damage and seeing the extent of it, but very quickly after that you can't help but feel pretty inspired by seeing how people responded to it," Earl told reporters at Lake Tomahawk.

He said the inspiring things included "friends and neighbors who got in and cut through [and] opened up the roads, volunteer fire departments and others who got at it.

"And, most surprising to me is the wonderful spirit of people who have lost everything," he added.

Earl said he expected federal officials to view damage to public property as an important factor in deciding on the state's request for disaster help, because "they begin with the assumption that much of the private property would have been insured.

"They're looking at damage to the forest, damage to roadways, utility damage, etc.," he said.

Earl said he hoped that the "combination of extensive public damage and the great expense there's going to be in taking care of it will make us eligible for assistance."

The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI Apr 29 1984