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10 years later: Merrill Tornado

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MERRILL, Wis. (WAOW) — 10 years ago, on April 10, 2011, a severe weather outbreak tore across the state of Wisconsin, spawning 15 confirmed tornadoes and causing irreplaceable damage to many homes and businesses.

The strongest of these tornadoes was the EF 3 Tornado in Merrill, which damaged or destroyed 44 homes and eight businesses. They were left in rubble when winds of nearly 140 miles an hour tore through the countryside. Some businesses left with only the foundation of the building it was before.

"Well it just happened like, in matters of seconds you know just started blowing and rain was like sheets and we saw a little tree broke down and I looked back and saw the barn was completely down," Phil Hendrichs, a Little Chicago barn owner said back in 2011.

That barn and others were destroyed in mere minutes, with the rest of the nearby farm in no better shape.

A resident of Merrill, Don Kopplin, had his house destroyed in the storm. He said he made it to his basement just in time.

“We just got down there and everything was gone. And the doors and paneling side, we didn't know if we were going to make it or not," Don Koppling said back in 2011.

Now, we look back to the hardest-hit areas and look into the way the community has rebuilt to become stronger since the tragedy.  

Today, you cannot tell that a tornado had touched down in the parking lot outside of the Smith Center at the Merrill Area Recreation Complex. A feat that would not have been possible if the residents did not take pride in restoring their community.

"It could have taken longer but it was every bit of 8 months before we were back to what we would consider as normal or usual," said Dan Wendorf the Parks and Recreation Director of Merrill. "We had hundreds of moving parts that we had to identify. That we had to categorize, catalogue, put a value to and then work with the insurance company to make sure that we got everything taken care of. It was something hopefully we never have to experience again."

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Sierra Rehm

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