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'There's nothing. Everything's gone': Rusk County cleans up tornado mess as rivers rise from heavy rainsSubmitted: 05/18/2017
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter
bmeyer@wjfw.com

'There's nothing.  Everything's gone':  Rusk County cleans up tornado mess as rivers rise from heavy rains
RUSK COUNTY - At least four government teams assessed damage on the ground in Barron and Rusk counties on Wednesday.

Those teams saw destruction which will reach into the millions of dollars in damage. Tuesday night's tornadoes killed one person and injured 25 more.

In Conrath in Rusk County, John Polak had to pause every few minutes while recounting his story of surviving the tornado. Freight trains rumbled behind his home, making it hard to hear.


But Polak said the tornado was at least four times as loud as any train.

"A noise like you've never, ever heard before," he said. "It was a horrific sound of stuff getting [broken]."

Polak and family members rode out the tornado in their basement.

"We were just stuck in the basement, because everything from our upstairs fell down in the entryway to get out of the basement," he said. "I just started throwing [stuff] out of the way until I got out."

Polak's home by the train tracks, near the constant rumbling, has been in the family since 1923. On Thursday, sounds of cleanup help from family and friends were the loudest.

"There's so much to do, and you just don't know where to start," he said.

The home was the only one completely destroyed in Rusk County, which suffered almost $400,000 of residential damage.

"There's nothing. Everything's gone," Polak said.

While heavy winds led to home damage, heavy rains led to overflowing rivers.

Main Creek closed roads near Conrath and sunk bridges in Tony. The riverbed couldn't hold Pokegama Creek near Cameron in Barron County. Barron and Rusk counties remain under an official state of emergency.

Gov. Scott Walker toured storm damage on Wednesday in Chetek. He was back in northern Wisconsin Thursday.

"This is, I think in terms of outright damage, both physical, in terms of what it did to the landscape, but also, in terms of the damage of destroying people's homes," Walker said. "I think it's the worst I've seen as governor."

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