Seth Nelson, 30, of rural Battle Lake, Minnesota, died when the store he worked for collapsed during one of the tornadoes that struck southeast Otter Tail County.
The sheriff’s office said the National Weather Service rated the tornado in which Nelson died in category three on the improved Fujita scale, which means it had wind speeds between 136 and 165 mph.
Authorities said two tornadoes made landfall in Otter Tail County on Wednesday night, creating a 6 to 9 mile damage path in the southeast part of the county.
Dennis Schmidt, chairman of the board for Eagle Lake Township, said he saw the tornado from a hill near his farm and said he knows the man who died.
He said the man was working at his store when he collapsed on him. Schmidt did not give the man’s name, knowing that his relatives had probably not been notified.
First responders were blocking traffic in the area as first responders from the Ashby Fire Department were going door-to-door to see other rural residents after the tornado around 5:20 pm
Roads were closed to the public throughout the area as houses and buildings were destroyed and trees fell, Schmidt said.
“There is insulation and tin everywhere,” he added.
Nick Carletta, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said the tornado that was possibly as wide as 500 yards at some points was one of the worst in the area in several years.
He said it could be at the top of the tornado scale, which would be an EF5.
“Based on preliminary evidence, it could be from an EF3 to an EF5,” Carletta said. A NWS meteorologist was on the scene examining the damage.
An EF3 tornado means that wind speeds reached 136 mph, and if it was an EF5, the wind was greater than 200 mph.
Carletta said the meteorologist saw at least one house lifted from its foundation, which would mean it was at the top end of the tornado scale.
The tornado had “multiple touchdowns,” he said as he advanced from west of Ashby, across Interstate 94, southeast of Dalton, and then moved to the area south of Battle Lake.
A tornado warning was issued for the area at 5:08 pm, Carletta said, and it rose at 6 pm when the storm moved east.
“It was a bad one,” Schmidt said of the tornado he observed about four miles away. He calculated that the tornado was on the ground for about 20 minutes.
Carletta said it could have been on the ground for 30 minutes.
“I saw it fall, then it hit the water and it went up and then it went down again,” Schmidt said.
He said the Lake Sewell area in south-central Otter Tail County, about six miles southeast of Dalton, was one of the most affected areas.
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