Skip to comments.Hundreds Help Clear the Rubble (Update on WI Tornado)
Posted on 08/21/2005 7:59:17 AM PDT by Diana in Wisconsin
STOUGHTON, WI - They came clutching new work gloves and water jugs and wearing jeans and boots and they arrived from as far away as Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois.
They came Saturday by the hundreds.
The story here over the weekend has largely been the resolve of the people devastated by Thursday's tornado, their determination to pick up and carry on.
But everyone was marveling, too, at the arrival of volunteers, the people who gave up a Saturday to toil in the heat and the dust, helping people they don't know begin to rebuild their lives.
Saturday morning, cars filled the parking lot at Stoughton High School, where volunteers went inside to sign up and wait on the gymnasium bleachers to board buses that ferried them out to the smashed neighborhoods in the towns of Dunn and Pleasant Springs.
Heaps of rubble
By 10 a.m., nine buses carrying 405 volunteers had left the school, bound for duty somewhere in the 12-mile-long, half- mile-wide path of devastation left by the twister. Inside, hundreds more waited and several buses were pulled up at the curb.
"We talked about it on the bus," said volunteer Craig Fenrick of Madison. "This could be us. This, very simply, could be me and my family going through this."
That's why Fenrick decided to help. He was watching the 10 o'clock news the night before and saw that volunteers were needed. So there he was Saturday, sweating in the sun, wearing a Crazy Legs Classic T- shirt. If it were happening to his family, he said, he knew somebody would be there to help him.
That selflessness especially touched those who walked in a daze Saturday through the heaps of rubble that had been their homes.
On Thursday evening, Deborah and Ken Clemmons dove into their downstairs bathroom when they saw the black, spinning funnel out their back window, shearing off stalks in the cornfield and spewing them in the air as efficiently as a machine.
"It was just sawing the corn off," Deborah recalled.
They spent several harrowing minutes in the bathroom. Ken remembers the horrendous noise and an intense odor of earth. They came out to find most of their house gone, a neighbor on the ground injured.
Saturday, Ken stood in his yard as volunteers swarmed around him, carrying bricks and pieces of his house and torn tree branches to the trash bins in the street. He shook his head.
"It just staggers you," he said of the strangers who were helping him pick up his life.
Volunteer Mary Knutson, who lives near Stoughton, said she didn't think twice about helping. "How could you not come out here?" she asked. "It's unbelievable. You feel a little guilty because you have a home to go back to at night."
Knutson's 16-year-old daughter, Katherine, a student at Stoughton High School, worked alongside her mother. It was a rewarding but sobering task, she said.
"You pick up a boot, or something like that," Katherine said. "And you think, this is peoples' lives that you are finding laying around."
Lee Leverton, of Cambridge, and his 10-year-old son, Gary Lee, worked Saturday carrying debris. They volunteered, Leverton said, because they are Christians.
"You ask yourself, 'What would Jesus have done?' ' Leverton said. "Well, he would have been out here working a lot harder probably than me."
Back at the high school, workers with the state Department of Natural Resources were coordinating the volunteer effort, using the system and skills developed fighting wildfires and handling other emergencies to pull off the massive effort over the weekend.
Greg Matthews, a spokesman for the DNR who was working at the school Saturday, said more than 600 people poured through the school doors during the day and were taken to neighborhoods to work. And it was all basic, hard labor: pulling apart wreckage and smashed trees and branches and picking up bricks and broken furniture and carrying it all by the armload to trash bins, then going back for another load, and another, and another.
It is hot and dirty and backbreaking work.
But this morning, Matthews said, hundreds more will show up. He has no doubt. He's seen it before and he knows they will come.
This picture says it all. God bless those helpful people.
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