NEWS ARCHIVES: St. Peter Tornado Recovery in 2008
Editors Note: In March 2008, then Meteorologist Mitch Keegan, who is now our news director, looked back at the recovery from the 1998 tornado after 10 years. In this story, Keegan spoke with Jerry Hawbaker who was mayor of St. Peter in 1998. Hawbaker passed away in 2011.
Jerry Hawbaker says, "We heard this sound, they always say it sounds like a freight train and sure enough, that's exactly what it sounded like to us."
Jerry Hawbaker recounts the day his life... and community... changed forever.
Hawbaker was mayor of Saint Peter at the time the tornado hit.
Todd Prafke says, "There really isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about the tornado, it's hard to get away from it."
City Administrator Todd Prafke had been on the job all of three months when the twister hit.
Both men say they didn't ask the question of 'why me?'
"No matter why it did happen, it happened and we had to make up our mind to either progress forward because the alternative of giving up, a lot of people leaving town, to me, was out of the question," says Hawbaker.
90 percent of the homes and businesses in St. Peter sustained damage of some sort, with estimates ranging from 300 to 500 million dollars.
Hawbaker recounts the time right before he and his wife took shelter in their basement as the tornado moved into town.
"From the looks of that sky and the looks of that cloud, I knew that it couldn't be bringing any good."
But so much good came in the days after the storm... and in the end... created a stronger community.
Prake says, "People stayed and more people came, I'm not sure why more people came, except more people sensed an energy around the community."
Prafke says it's that energy which helped the town rebuild and make a better community, with new partnerships and new growth.
"Events like a tornado, or a flood or a fire in your home or a death of someone you love, all are points in time in your life and you can either decide to move forward and make something better or you can decide not to and from the community perspective, the community of St. Peter decided to move forward and make something better."
Bryan Karrick was the meteorologist on duty for KEYC that day. Some credit him for passing on potentially life-saving information.
Karrick says, "The thought that I needed to get the information across as quickly as I could because obviously in our business, the faster you can get the word out, the quicker you're going to have people taking cover."
Unfortunately, two people died in that storm... perhaps a miraculously small number when compared to the amount of damage.
"Two people losing their lives is too many, it's amazing, when you see the damage in St. Peter and in Comfrey, that we didn't lose more lives that day," says Karrick.
Denise Wright is Emergency Management Director for Nicollet County.
She remembers those sticky, humid conditions that March day.
"I remember my husband and I talking, saying something's going to happen, it just feels like something's going to happen today."
Wright's house in Courtland received about 10-thousand dollars in damage.
Like many others, she says a lot of good has come in the aftermath of that storm... like having residents that are more storm-ready.
"Having the residents more aware and having to go through it, you know, it's a bad thing, but in the long run, it's kind of a good thing, because then you are more prepared, more aware of what's happening," says Wright.
While the city and county are prepared to spring into action again, Hawbaker recalls how everyone in 1998 was willing to pitch in to get the city back on it's feet.
"I tell you, it was efficiency in action in this town. I'm really proud of everybody."
Pride the whole community has benefited from 10 years after being devastated by a tornado.
In Saint Peter, Mitch Keegan, News 12.