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By Ryan Bakken, Forum Communications Co., Published June 18 2010

Northwood couple escapes just in time

NORTHWOOD, N.D. – Owen Dahl was looking for his house. Wife Debbie was looking for something that was the couple’s top priority – her wedding ring.

But they both knew it could have been much, much worse. If not for the phone call from their daughter, Jessica Steward, they, too, could have been victims of the tornado that ripped through their 10-acre site Thursday afternoon, destroying their home, three sheds and one car, along with damaging vehicles and farm equipment owned by customers of Owen’s welding business.

“We’re just glad Debbie and I are safe because we should have been killed,” Owen said.

Jessica Steward made the call from her home in Northwood, alerting her parents that a tornado was spotted three miles to the southeast of their home along State Highway 15.

Owen looked outside and spotted a tornado a mile away that “looked at least a quarter-mile wide.” The Dahls, who were in a work shed, briefly contemplated making a dash through the heavy rain for the crawl space under their manufactured, ranch-style home.

They believe a decision to instead drive off in a pickup saved their lives. The house and two-car garage were lifted off the foundation and sent northward in pieces.

“I don’t know if we would have survived the crawl space,” Owen said. “The winds sucked a lot of our stuff out of the crawl space, and I think it could have sucked us out, too.”

They drove a half-mile east and watched from the truck around 4:30 p.m. as the tornado chewed up a shelter belt across the road and then the mammoth trees and power lines in their yard and then the buildings and vehicles.

Owen was simultaneously stricken and amazed by the tornado’s force and the popping and snapping sounds of the destruction.

“It was hard to watch, yet it was fascinating at the same time,” he said. “The power was unbelievable and awesome to watch. I was amazed how it tore through everything.”

He didn’t see portions of his house blow away, figuring it was instead ground up by the winds and scattered in small pieces.

“Thirty seconds from the time it hit, my house was gone,” Owen said. “I understand some of my insulation is two miles north of here. But I don’t know where the rest is.”

Son-in-law Justin Steward and Chief Deputy Bob Rost of the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department scoured through the mess, looking for the wedding ring and anything else worth salvaging.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Rost said. “You look around, and it’s very reminiscent of Northwood (in its 2007 tornado).”

Justin grew emotional when finding a photograph of his son and when talking about how his wife and two children planned to visit their grandparents that afternoon. They changed plans when the weather worsened.

“We’re just looking for things that can’t be replaced,” he said.


Bakken is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald