Blair hit hard by wind and hail from overnight storm

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BLAIR, Wis. (WEAU) -- Thursday begins days of cleaning up for the community of Blair.

Wednesday night's storms hit the area hard with widespread damage from straight line winds and hail.

The storm forced the Blair-Taylor school district to cancel classes Thursday and Friday.

People in Blair said it started out like any normal thunderstorm but it turned for the worse.

"It kind of got quiet and then all of a sudden it got really loud and the hail and everything. We went downstairs," says Jennifer Rommes who lives in Blair.

She says the combination of heavy rain and strong winds made it impossible to see outside. The early estimation from the National Weather Service is that the winds were upwards of 70 to 80 mph.

"Then we came up and the tree was in the yard and the power line was on my car," says Rommes.

"We came back up and I looked out the window towards the valley and it was all water and I said holy moly. Then I went to another window and the barn was gone," explains Vernon Back. He lives along highway 95 which was under water from the heaviest rain he'd ever seen.

"It’s kind of unbelievable," says Back.

Trees blocked his driveway and made the highway impassible for a time. Back says he had several tractors and tools in the collapsed barn but not his prized antique car.

"Luckily I didn't have that in the barn otherwise that woulda been gone," says Back.

The Trempealeau County Emergency Management says nearly every structure sustained some type of damage, whether it was from toppled trees or hail and wind.

"A mobile home park was evacatuated last night because several of the homes mobile homes moved enough so that the gas lines were severed and we had a gas leak that was luckily taken care of," says Dan Schreiner. "Some of the dwellings there sustained enough damage so we expect people to be displaced for somet ime."

Those displaced are being helped by Red Cross as well as the Salvation Army. Shelter is also available at the Blair-Taylor Elementary School.

"We look at the damage to see if it's inhabitable, if they're able to stay there, if they do need shelter, those type of things," says Red Cross volunteer Tracy Nelson.

Debris was scattered everywhere with the smell of pine in the air.

The Blair-Taylor high school also has considerable roof damage.

"We have a lot of warping wood on our gym floor. It's a mess," says firefighter Luke Solberg. "We have debree and material from our facility laying all over throughout the property of the school district."

Alfred Everson had a tree fall on his home.

“I’m 81 years old. It was the worst storm I’ve seen here in Blair," says Everson.

He says he has good neighbors and this small town community will help one another through this.

"Everybody knows you and they care about people, they really do," he says.

Even Congressman Ron Kind came through Blair, surveying the damage and visiting hundreds affected by the storm. In fact, he was affected too. His own family farm house was hit by lightning and burned down.

"It's so impressive seeing all the neighbors come out and help each other and trying to clean up and get back on their feet as quickly as possible again," says Kind.

Kind says he appreciates all of the hard work rescue and power crews have put in overnight during the storm.

"We started responding around 11 p.m. last night," says Mark Green with Xcel Energy. "Just getting people back their power and as many people as we can."

Meanwhile, at Kwik Trip in Blair, it's round-the-clock busy. The store lost electricy overnight, but since has been restored.

"A lot of them (residents) can't be in their homes right now because it's not safe so we really need to have food available for them and water," says store leader Jessica Howe.

Experts are still in the process of collecting more information on last night’s storm. When we learn more, I’ll have a full wrap up on last night's severe weather on our SkyWarn 13 weather notebook. You’ll find that under our 'weather page'.

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