By JOEL ESKOVITZ
Associated Press Writer
A tornado ripped apart a northwestern Wisconsin city Monday as a
series of severe storms swept across the state causing severe
damage and producing a second twister in central Wisconsin,
authorities said.
The first tornado hit Ladysmith at 4:30 p.m. Monday, leveling a
Baptist church, a gas station and the top floors of a motel and
fire department, according to eyewitness reports.
"Most of the town is a disaster. There's buildings missing,
down, torn apart - everything," said Christine Wright, an employee
at the Holiday Station Store in downtown Ladysmith. "They're
shutting the town down."
Dozens of injured people were brought to Rusk Memorial Hospital,
but their conditions were not released, said hospital spokeswoman
Jan Neuman. Overflow patients were sent to two area hospitals, she
said.
Neuman said she had heard no reports of fatalities. Calls to the
Rusk County coroner's home by The Associated Press went unanswered
Monday night.
Red Cross dispatcher Kathy Nelson said a four-block area of
Ladysmith was destroyed, and the Red Cross was sending numerous
response teams to set up emergency shelters for people who were
left homeless.
There were many injuries but no initial reports of fatalities,
the Rusk County Sheriff's Department said.
"There's major damage everywhere," said dispatcher Ann
Ahneman. "I'm talking like our whole city."
Wright reported a nearby Amoco station was destroyed, and gas
was leaking from the station. She said sheriff's officials were
asking people to leave the city, but the sheriff's department could
not be reached to confirm the magnitude of the evacuation.
Ollie Fink, an assistant editor at the Ladysmith News, said the
tornado took a window out of the newspaper building.
Sandy Zajec, who owns a Ladysmith radio station, told KARE-TV in
Minneapolis there was "extensive damage" to the downtown business
district and a nearby residential area.
"There was like no warning," she said. "It was just there ...
right in the center of downtown Ladysmith."
A second tornado hit Wausau Monday evening, said Roy Eckberg, a
meteorologist in the weather service's Green Bay office.
There were reports of trees, power lines and poles down, and
unconfirmed reports of four to six homes damaged, according to the
Marathon County Sheriff's Department.
About 2,800 customers were without power in Wausau Monday night
because of tornado damage to power lines, Wisconsin Public Service
spokesman Larry Matzke said. He said crews were having trouble
reaching the sites.
"There are a lot of people out and about looking at the
damage," Matzke said.
The Gilman School District in Taylor County said the roof was
torn off its school and classes were canceled for Tuesday and
Wednesday.
Eckberg initially said a third tornado hit Aniwa - about 7 miles
south of Antigo - around 7:15 p.m. Monday, but later said a funnel
cloud passed through the area but did not touch down.
He said there were no initial reports of damages or injuries
from the twister, which touched ground at the intersection of
Highways 45 and 52 in a rural area in northern Shawano County that
was not heavily populated.
Power was out in Ladysmith and crews were sent to the scene to
assess the damage, Xcel Energy spokesman Brian Elwood said.
"There's power lines down, there's poles broken," said Elwood
of the company's Eau Claire office.
State Highways 8 and 27 were closed into Ladysmith, and the
State Patrol was diverting traffic around the area, said dispatcher
Donna Gisicki of the Spooner office.
"It's still pretty chaotic," she said.
Ladysmith is a city of about 4,000 in northwest Wisconsin, just
north of Eau Claire.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press