Day 3: Cleaning up after deadly tornado destroys 170+ homes

TEXAS – The number of homes destroyed by a tornado Wednesday night in Onalaska has quadrupled, according to Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy.

On Thursday, Murphy said there were almost 300 homes damaged and about 40 more destroyed.

In a press conference Friday morning, Murphy reported the number of homes damaged remains around 300, but the number of destroyed homes has jumped to 173.

Onalaska residents have banded together during the tough time, Murphy said.

The Garland Park Pavilion has been turned into a donation and distribution center. Barbara Dickens lives in the area and said her house wasn’t damaged, so she came out to help her neighbors.

“There (are) people out there with babies and no diapers, they have no food, they have nothing,” Dickens said. “Everybody is donating, and everybody is giving their time. It’s wonderful.”

Those hardest hit by the tornado are welcome to take what they need, said Danny Freeman, who was also volunteering.

“We just want to come help. It’s our community, so that’s what we’re doing,” Freeman said. “The community has really come together to help out, it’s a pretty neat deal.”

Strangers have also come to offer aid. Bobby Lamaire, a business owner in Houston, made a call to one of his clients after hearing about the tornado damage.

“I made a phone call to Niagra and they donated 34 pallets of water and we brought it up here and had it delivered,” Lamaire said. “Hopefully this is going to help the community a bit.”

A triage center for injured and lost pets has also been set up at the pavilion. Adam Graham, an agriculture science teacher for Onalaska Independent School District is heading the effort.

“We’ve had calls for large animals from donkeys to sheep, goats, all the way down to hedgehogs, chickens, cats,” Graham said. “We’re going to work tirelessly to get these animals reunited with their owners.”

The make-shift rescue group is in need of crates and pet supplies like food and blankets, Graham said.

Down the road from the pavilion, grief counseling is being offered out of Pine Forest Baptist Church. Susan Moore with the Burke Center said they’ll be offering the service to anyone -- free of charge.

“Everybody is sort of in shock,” Moore said. “Let us help you work through it before you internalize it and it becomes more of a problem in other areas.”

According to Moore, they will not be working over the weekend but will be back next week. She said anyone who can’t make it to the church can also call their hotline at 1-(800)- 392- 8343.

Judge Murphy said Polk County has issued a local state of disaster, but will rebuild, move forward and grow from the catastrophe.