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Hartland community continues rebuilding after historic December tornado

Published: Jun. 15, 2022 at 10:38 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2022 at 10:49 PM CDT
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HARTLAND, Minn. (KEYC) - Dec. 15, 2021, is a day that many Hartland residents will remember forever. It is a day that an unprecedented tornado came through the town and took away nearly everything in its path.

Now, rebuilding has begun, and the town is starting to look new again.

Few traces remain of the EF-2 tornado that left many homes severely damaged.

“As you can see, if you drive around town today, other than some of the big buildings, most of the traces are gone,” said Todd Earl, chief deputy at the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office.

JR Henderson’s home was in the twister’s path. Henderson says that night, the sirens stopped, and he looked out his front door when he thought he heard what sounded like a tractor outside.

“When I opened the door, the garage hit the front of the house a block away,” Henderson recalled.

Henderson had just witnessed his neighbor’s garage door slam into his home, landing in a crumpled pile at his front door, pushing him back inside.

“The garage a block from where it was hit me [and] knocked me down. The garage went a third of the way into the living room,” he said.

The damage from that event is what Henderson is still working to repair. He says he’s doing the work on his own, with the only help thus far being from contractors who assisted with refurbishing his roof.

Henderson said the first thing on his list of repairs was replacing the windows.

“It took me nine weeks to get windows. Then it took another seven weeks to get storm windows.”

Right where the tornado ripped its path, volunteers immediately marched into the town of over 300 to clean up the streets and clear away debris.

“People I didn’t even know helped me get the stuff out of the front porch,” Henderson said.

In the town’s main square, an empty space where a gazebo once stood can still be seen beside a partially destroyed building, which all sits across from a severely damaged bank. These are two main buildings in the town, the fate of which still remains to be determined.

For months, Hartland residents had to travel 13 miles just to get their mail because of the damage done to the post office, but thanks to rebuilding efforts, Hartland residents can now access a post office in city hall on the main drag.

“They did the remodeling there, got that all up and running and got the mail back here,” Freeborn County Emergency Management Director Rich Hall said.

The chaos of Dec. 15 is something town leaders will never forget, especially when they reflect on how far they’ve come in six months.

“I just love seeing communities come together like that. I wish they would do that all the time, but in situations like that, boy you really see that come out,” Earl said.

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