Colfax tornado cuts deadly swath

The tornado which roared through Colfax June 4, 1958, took the roof and blocks off this service station. Although the storm damaged property over a long distance, Colfax was hit hardest in terms of lives lost and property damage.

     Area residents have weathered many natural disasters, but few are better remembered today than the Colfax tornado of June 4, 1958.
     On that day violent weather cut a swath from St. Croix County through Chippewa, Eau Claire and Clark..
     At least 28 persons were killed. About 350 were injured, 20 seriously. Property damage was estimated at $10 million.
     The Village of Colfax was hardest hit. At least 12 persons died there and damage exceeded $2 million.
     The tornado struck the north and south ends of Colfax, sparing the central business district. Many residents, however, lost their homes.
     But as one writer described it, "those who lost their homes counted themselves lucky compared to those whose loved ones had been claimed by the tornado."
     Many freakish incidents were reported:
     A woman near Menomonie had a stick with a diameter on one-half inch embedded in her skull by high winds
      Winds took a neatly-folded insurance policy of a Knapp area man and carried it more than 75 miles, depositing it in a field southeast of Sheldon.
      Two dozen eggs were left undamaged by the storm while nearby the body of a truck disintegrated and a highway bridge was left twisted and crushed.
     Only one of 25 houses was left standing at Cedar Falls.
     Farmers were particularly hard hit by the storm with 432 homes and farm buildings destroyed. Another 1,032 buildings were damaged.

Farmers rebuild

     In Dunn County alone, 88 farmers were forced to rebuild or quit. In the Thorp area, 41 farms were damaged.
     The storm cut utilities and communications in the area, isolating 14 communities. In Eau Claire a record 9,080 long-distance telephone calls were handled as friends and relatives inquired about the safety of loved ones.
      An equally significant story developed in days following the disaster as a massive relief effort took place.
     Doctors, nurses, Boy Scouts, amateur radio operators and common laborers traveled many miles to volunteer.
     Five 10-ton semi-trailers arrived from the Twin Cities loaded with food and clothing donated by retailers there.
     Almost 28 years before the Colfax tornado another disaster struck Dunn County. On Friday, June 13, 1930, a tornado hit near Menomonie at about 7:10 p.m. At least six persons were killed.
     Seven persons were killed and scores injured when a tornado swept through Barron County April 5, 1929, causing $300,000 in property damage.
     The storm struck between 6 and 7 p.m. and raced along a line from Vance Creek to Doyle township and into Rusk and Sawyer Counties. The storm, first seen in Minnesota, destroyed 30 homes in Pierce and St. Croix Counties before reaching Barron.
     That tornado caused five deaths in addition to those in Barron County.

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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