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ARRL General Bulletin ARLB023 (1998)

ARLB023 Ham radio eases tornado recovery in Minnesota

ARRL Bulletin 23  ARLB023
From ARRL Headquarters
Newington CT  April 2, 1998
To all radio amateurs

ARLB023 Ham radio eases tornado recovery in Minnesota

Ham radio operators from across Minnesota have been providing a link
with the outside world this week after tornadoes struck two towns in
the southern part of the state.  Tornadoes flattened Comfrey, a farm
community of about 500, and badly damaged the City of St Peter,
population 9000 and the home of Gustavus Adolphus College.
Electricity and telephone service were knocked out by the storm on
March 29. At least two people were killed.

For Minnesota Section Manager Randy ''Max'' Wendel, N0FKU, this was
more than a disaster that required the helping hand of ham radio.
St Peter was his hometown, and the place where his parents still
lived.  Wendel and Minnesota SEC Gary Peterson, N0ZOD were among
dozens of ARES members who responded.

Wendel and Peterson alerted other ARES members to be prepared to
assist with communication, then headed for St Peter.  ARES members
from Rochester and the nearby Mankato area were among the others who
turned out.  Wendel himself arrived in St Peter after nightfall,
using his ARES identification to get past state police barricades.
Wendel found his parents safe and their home damaged.  Others,
including their neighbors, found themselves suddenly homeless.

Wendel said hams already had situated themselves at key locations,
including the Nicollet County Emergency Operations Center, a shelter
for victims, and at a sports arena.  The ARES team set up an
emergency base station at Gustavus Adolphus College.  While most
students were out of town for spring break, 28 students remained on
campus and had no contact with the outside world.

During the next day or so after the tornado struck, ham radio was
the only communication out of the city and the primary means to
coordinate supplies into the city from the Red Cross in Mankato to
the shelters in St Peter.  The morning after the tornado, the
Salvation Army arrived to distribute food.  Hams provided logistical
support for that effort as well.  Other hams shadowed disaster
assessment officials who went door to door throughout the city or
handled net control duties at the EOC.  Still others simply made
themselves available as needed to cooperate in the recovery effort.

With typical ham ingenuity, Dave Kleindl, KA0BFP, scrounged enough
materials to construct a temporary dipole to put a local broadcast
station back on the air after its towers had been downed in the
storm.  With help from other hams, Kleindl also got a generator to a
water tower that was still standing and reactivated the local
VHF/UHF amateur and public safety repeaters.

''This event once again set a clear example of the importance of
Amateur Radio during an emergency,'' Wendel said.  Both he and
Peterson stressed the importance of planning.  Fortunately, the
local government officials and agencies were aware of Amateur Radio
as a resource.  ''When it comes to the unexpected, there is no time
to explain who we are and why and how we can help,'' he added.

Wendel said that snow was falling in the stricken area on April 1.
He expected ham radio involvement to end by the weekend as normal
communication systems are restored.


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