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Rural residents pick up the pieces following storm

As news media swarmed to cover the devastation in Hugo, Minn., last week, several miles to the east in Wisconsin a similar scene received little attention.

Golden Maples Farm in Forest Township, east of Deer Park, was among several farmsteads pounded by high winds, hail and a possible tornado May 25.

"People really didn't realize what happened around here until a couple days ago," farmer Leo Sanftner said while taking a break Friday morning. "It's a bit overwhelming. You don't know what to do first. You just wish you could leave for a week and have somebody else clean it up."

The storm destroyed one of Sanftner's barns, and a second barn will be demolished due to significant damage.

Several sheds on the farmstead were also destroyed, along with damage to the two homes on the property.

"A lot of stuff was driven through the walls of the homes," Sanftner said. "There were 10 to 12 holes in the one house alone. We've done patch-work to get by for now."

Four of the farm's 75-100 head of cattle were killed in the storm. Feed and hay for the animals were also lost in the aftermath.

One of the biggest losses suffered was damage to much of the farm's equipment. A combine was destroyed, a stock trailer was badly damaged and tractors were forced out of commission. Sanftner was hoping to gain use of a corn planter for the weekend to finish getting his corn crop in before it's too late in the season.

"We've got 25 to 30 acres to go," he said. "We should be able to finish it up."

Sanftner also lost a grain dryer, corn planter, chopper boxes, hay racks, grinder mixers, fences, trees and more.

"It's unbelievable," he said with a shake of the head. "You hear a lot about these kinds of storms, but until it happens to you, you don't know how bad it can be. Anything it could destroy, it did."

A feeder wagon managed to survive the onslaught. The wind picked up the heavy piece of equipment, moved it about 200 yards, and then set it back upright on the ground.

One big task ahead of the local farmers is cleaning up debris that is scattered across farm fields for hundreds of yards, Sanftner said.

Even as he stood among fallen buildings and damaged equipment, Sanftner said he feels lucky that no one was home when the storm blew through the area.

Partners Peter and Donna Kreft, and Leo's parents Ed and Dorothy Sanftner, were gone for the day.

The farmers have also been fortunate to have helpers in the clean-up process. A crew of family members and friends have been lending a hand in the back-breaking efforts throughout the week. People from Spooner, Clear Lake, Woodville and Star Prairie have stopped by throughout the week to see what they could do to help.

Electrical power was finally restored to two homes on the property on Friday. Leo and Sally Sanftner had been generating their own power for days, using a generator hooked up to a constantly-running tractor.

The Sanftner farmstead wasn't the only one hit hard by the big storm. A nearby house had a huge stand of trees stripped bare. Word of Life Church down the road sustained some damage, as did other homes and trees in the neighborhood.

"I'm sure it's going to be months before everything is cleaned up," Sanftner said. "It's going to take time to get back to normal."

Sanftner said his family has been farming locally for more than 30 years and he's never seen anything like the damage caused by last week's storm.

Jack Colvard, emergency manager for St. Croix County, said Monday in a phone interview there were not enough reports of damage from wind to compile a request for state aid due to the storm.

"Half a dozen houses received wind damage," Colvard said. "And we don't count hail damage because we would have to go door-to-door to get that information and we don't have the manpower."

Colvard said most homeowners are covered by insurance and the total damage they could report to the state would be based on wind.

"Three farms reported damage," Colvard said. "One near Deer Park, one in Emerald and one on County Trunk C and H. They have been referred to their insurance companies and the Farm Services Agency for low-cost loans."

A sheriff's deputy and Colvard were out for four hours Sunday night around county roads P and Q and saw "lots of trees down and some yard sheds blown over."

"We don't look at the hail damage," Colvard explained, "so we can't submit for state assistance based on the approximately $25,000 worth of damage we've seen. It isn't enough for them to consider."

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