MINNEAPOLIS – Powerful winds slammed parts of four Midwestern states on Wednesday, leaving behind shattered windows, toppled power lines and a handful of injuries. At least a half dozen suspected tornadoes were reported.
The National Weather Service received reports of a possible tornado near downtown Minneapolis, where winds tore off part of a 90-year-old metal church steeple. Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois were also hit, though the only confirmed tornado as of Wednesday night was in Hastings, about 30 miles southeast of Minneapolis, where a 100-yard-long swath of trees was flattened.
Jack Freitag said he was standing in the lobby of the Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis when he saw “a wall cloud from the south coming across the parking lot.” Then a “very loud roar” came through as he saw signs being blown around in the wind.
The wind tore off part of the church’s 90-year-old metal steeple around 2 p.m. while about 120 people were inside, said church spokesman Joe Bjordal.
“I was worried about the people then,” said Freitag, who told everyone to seek shelter in the church’s basement. No one was injured.
Outside the church, strong winds ripped apart large outdoor tents and scattered chairs and folding tables across the parking lot that were set up for the national Evangelical Lutheran Church in America convention. The church was scheduled to serve breakfast to guests attending the event at the Minneapolis Convention Center next door.
“I think we’re out of business” for entertaining convention visitors, Bjordal said.
At the Electric Fetus, a landmark independent music store near downtown, strong winds shattered one of the store’s windows and caused the roof to cave in.
“It was just the loudest crashing noise,” said Stephanie Covart, the store’s co-owner. “We didn’t know what was happening.”
A glass panel on a nearby bus shelter was shattered, leaving scattered pieces of glass on the sidewalk.
Meteorologist Dan Luna said it was the sort of storm that meteorologists dread — it didn’t look dangerous until it was.
“We worry about the really benign thunderstorm that develops a tornado in the metropolitan area,” Luna said. “These sort-lived ones form very quickly and dissipate very fast. They are very hard to predict.”
Luna said crews would evaluate the damage in downtown Minneapolis to see if there was more.
Mayor R.T. Rybak toured the area later Wednesday to assess damage and saw a hole in the Convention Center’s roof that caused water to leak in. Although there were many reports of downed trees and property damage, there were no reports of injuries, city officials said in a statement.
“It obviously had a significant physical impact but at this point it looks as if we’re very fortunate there were relatively few injuries,” Rybak said.
First responders were going house-to-house in the area looking for victims.
About 40 miles north in the town of North Branch, police said the middle school suffered severe water and structural damage from a reported tornado. A large section of the school’s roof was damaged and the white bleachers on its athletic field were ripped apart and scattered.
A possible tornado also was spotted about 60 miles east of Minneapolis in Emerald, Wis.
In northeast Iowa, a barn roof was blown off near Stanley but only minor damage was reported, local officials said.
The National Weather Service reported tornadoes may have touched down near Manchester in west-central Illinois and at Loami southwest of Springfield. Trees and power lines were down.
Six people were being treated at Springfield hospitals for storm-related injuries. None of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening, hospital personnel said.
Associated Press writers Jeff Baenen in Minneapolis, Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minn., and Christopher Wills in Springfield, Ill., contributed to this report.