Stories from the tornado
The EF2 tornado that struck the UW-Platteville campus on June 16 affected many across the UW-Platteville community. Many people were on or near campus at the time of the impact, or came to campus shortly after to assist in the emergency management and clean-up operations. Many people took part in, or witnessed, UW-Platteville employees and students going above and beyond to help keep people safe during the tornado, and come together to help immediately following the tornado.
While the damaged buildings and facilities were repaired, the impact of the tornado—along with the campus community’s experiences and response—will forever be a part of UW-Platteville history.
Read a few of the first-hand accounts from Pioneers who experienced this.
Marcy Bracket, UW-Platteville Facilities Management
Jeremy Cieslewicz, UW-Platteville Student
Christina Curras, College of EMS
Pete Davis, Director of UW-Platteville Facilities Management
Ethan Derner, UW-Platteville Student
Kevin Mikulski, UW-Platteville Student
Linda Mulroy-Bowden, Director, Residence Life
Kathleen Klar, UW-Platteville Student
Christopher Polzer, Instructor, Criminal Justice
Ray Spellman, Director, Highway Technician Certification Program
Tyler Tetzlaff, UW-Platteville Student
Alex Tilot, UW-Platteville Student
Trent Udelhoven, UW-Platteville Student
Brad Wells, University Police
Sonia Wichmann, parent of incoming UW-Platteville freshman
Ryan Williams, UW-Platteville Student
Vanessa Woodworth, UW-Platteville Student
Kay Young, Senior Instructional Specialist, Karrmann Library
There had been talk of possible tornado warnings earlier that day, and I had just brushed it off because, you know, it would never happen to me. I was living in Bridgeway on the fourth floor. It was about 11 p.m. I had just gotten out of the shower and I was blow drying my hair. The lights started to slightly dim and I figured it was from my hair dryer. Hail forcefully pelted the tin siding of the building. I knew something was wrong when the drains in the sink started to gurgle and suction out. A split second later I heard the crash of the windows forcefully opening. The floor started vibrating. I burst into my suietmate's room and screamed "we need to leave!" They were already out of bed heading towards the door. We sprinted down the hallway; all I could picture in my mind was the floor falling from under us pulling us down to sudden death. The lights went black. The building was now violently shaking. We fell to the floor and huddled against the wall in the position we were taught as kindergartners. The emergency strobe lights came on and blinding flashes of light lit up the hallway for a split second then went black again. This continued for about a second as the building continued to violently shake. My conscious told me 'I am NOT going to die like this'. "We need to go!" I yelled to my suitemates. We crawled towards the stairwell door at Olympic speeds. I was terrified that the stairwell would be blown open with glass everywhere or that it would shatter as we were in it. We flew down the stairs gripping the railing for dear life. We were some of the first people to make it to the first floor. By this time the shaking and rumbling had subsided. Everyone in the building huddled in the hallway, the emergency lights flashed and a voice repeatedly blared over the intercom saying "warning, an emergency has been reported in the building on the first floor. Please leave the building through designated exits." There was definitely something wrong with that message. I borrowed my friend's phone to tell my parents what had happened and that I loved them. We were moved further down the hall because water was oozing out of the stairwell door and from the janitorial closet. After a certain amount of time we were allowed to gather a few necessities from our rooms. I waded through the inch of water that covered my floor to grab my computer and a change of clothes. I had left my phone in the bathroom and entered to grab it. Water fell from the ceiling like rain and I was afraid the ceiling would cave in.
My home had been ruined and I didn't know if I would ever get my possessions back, but I didn't care. I was alive (and never felt more alive in my life), and I was thankful for all that I had. All my friends and family that I had always just taken for granted. I will never forget that experience, it has changed my life.
I was at the Explore Engineering Summer Camp when the tornado hit. It was about 10:45 when we (one counselor and several campers) were in one of the lobby areas playing Uno. We noticed that it had started raining, and we all thought very little of it. About five minutes later, we noticed that it had become very windy, though, again, we thought very little of it. Then the lights flickered and we collectively ran for cover just as the window started to shatter and blow in. We were scattered behind pillars and walls and in the bathrooms. Our counselor quickly moved all of us to a small hallway where we sat for a while. We were then moved up to the second floor, along with all other campers in the building. It was here that we swapped stories and quietly goofed around. While we waited, for what turned out to be several hours, I learned that portions of the roof were ripped off and that water was leaking out of many pipes. We waited for quite a while until they allowed us to see if we could gather a few things from our rooms on the sixth floor. We went upstairs in the dark and grabbed whatever we could. We went downstairs where we were given blankets and sheets before being moved from Rountree to one of the traditional dorms. We all only got a few hours of sleep that night.
The next day, our counselors still knew very little about what had happened. We were moved over to the Markee Pioneer Student Center to wait for our parents to come pick us up and take us home. There were many other camps on campus at the time so the cafeteria area was pretty full. Slowly, child after child left until there were very few left. A few minutes before I left, the workers restored power to at least that building of the campus.
In the following days, I unpacked what I had grabbed from my room and tried to return to normal. Ironically, one week after the storm hit, I returned to Platteville for my New Student Registration date. We claimed what was mine that had been recovered from the room. At the opening presentation, we, who had been in the storm were asked to stand by one of the speakers. We were applauded and we went about our day, occasionally being asked about the storm by parents and future Pioneers alike.
Since then, I have been keeping track of the goings-on at Platteville and waiting for August 29th so that I can move in.
Christina Curras, College of EMS Assistant Dean for Student Services and Chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering
The thing that strikes me the most is how defined the tornado area was—if you were not right in the path, then you really had no idea what had happened as it occurred at night. I was home watching the storm as I love a good thunderstorm. There was one point where the wind got a bit weird/strong, but I didn't think much of it and went to bed. I slept through the text message calling me in to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), so I got a phone call at 1:30 a.m. I was asked to report to the city police station for the city EOC to serve as liaison between the city and the campus.
I got ready as quickly as I could, in the dark, grabbed all the things I thought I might need for however long I'd be out, and headed downtown (once I got the garage door open...) The drive was eerie—still sprinkling a bit, but no power, no cars, no light. From my house to downtown there wasn't any damage, so it still hadn't sunk in that there had been a "strong wind event." At the city EOC I quickly tried to learn what they knew while communicating back to the university EOC. My smart phone was extremely valuable, but even more valuable was the outlet run off a generator so I could recharge it.
Sitting in the room, just hearing information, it was still pretty unreal. Alliant Energy came by to give a power update. Various people came in, gave an update, and headed out. However, just hearing reports didn't really give us a great picture of what was happening. Around I think 3:30ish the group decided to head out to survey the areas. I got into a police car with four others—the city engineer and emergency personnel. As we headed out, we first drove by the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. I was overwhelmed—it was full of emergency personnel and vehicles from all over—Mineral Point, Dodgeville, Cuba City, Hazel Green, and so many more that I can't remember anymore. The amount of help available was extremely comforting. However bad it was, there were enough people to do whatever was needed.
Driving into the damaged areas was sobering. Destroyed buildings. Trees down across the streets. Power lines down. But then, right next door to something completely destroyed would be something with no damage. A tent behind Uno's Back Bar, and just a bit further down Ed's Cafe pretty much destroyed.
Then, back to the EOC for more updates. A bit later the city EOC broke for a few hours so I headed to the university EOC to share what I knew and find out what was going on there. After a couple of hours there, the first shift was sent home. I went to the city press conference and then headed home. Still no power, I tried to sleep (and probably managed to some) before heading back around noon. Sometime in there my part of town got power back, which was a big relief as it was a hot and humid day. At some point that day when I was back at the university, we saw a press release about a second tornado in Platteville, on the north side, near my and some other staff members' homes. I later found out this one started just a block or so from my house! I had no idea.
The rest of that day and the next days blur together some. Going back and forth between the university and city, talking to family to let them know I was OK and what was going one, and then moving past the emergency to recovery. Perhaps I'll write more later but for now I think I'm done except for this:
I am originally from California. I am used to earthquakes, but tornadoes scared me even though I had never been near one. Being so close to two tornadoes, seeing the damage, living through the rebuilding, actually has made me less afraid of them. I saw first hand how well prepared the emergency responders and other personnel were, how quickly so many other communities came to help. It could have been so much worse, but no matter how bad it was, we would have found a way to make it through.
I was at home when the storm hit. The tornado actually traveled within a quarter mile or less of our house, but we had no idea. I first received a call from the Director of Residence Life, Linda, and she exclaimed that there are windows blown out of Bridgeway. She, obviously, was quite upset. I made phone calls to my staff to get as many people in as possible, not sure what we were dealing with at that time. I called my supervisor, Rob Cramer [Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services], as well, and he asked if we needed to set up our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) or needed anything else. I told him I would let him know when I got on site.
I said good night to my wife, and headed out the door in my little Honda Civic. At that time we had no power at home either, as well as most of the city.
I turned onto Hwy 80 and headed north down the hill to the intersection with Bus. 151. Then it hit me. At the bridge over the Rountree, I ran over some wires, and dodged some downed tree limbs. At the intersection, I noticed Ed's Cafe torn to pieces and the fire department at the intersection. Driving around trees and abandoned cars on Business 151, I made it to Chestnut and headed up towards campus where I saw one of my staff, Todd Duwe, pulling limbs out of the middle of the road so it could be opened. I looked to my left and saw a stadium light bent over like a straw, the Honda went a bit faster then.
When I arrived on scene, I was initially turned away at the intersection of Southwest and Longhorn until someone recognized me and ushered me through. I parked and walked towards the center of Bridgeway, Southwest and Engineering Halls and could not believe my eyes. Cars smashed and overturned, debris everywhere, and glass covering everything. I called Rob and said that this was big, and it was time for the EOC to be initiated.
Our first task at hand was to get the people who were residing in the buildings to safety and to make sure there was no one hurt. Residence Life had arrangements made to house people in a hall up on campus, but how to get them there??? Walk, that was the only way. So some staff shoveled paths through glass and other staff led convoys of people up the hill.
I am a member of the UW-Platteville Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Team, and I, along with 12 other teammates were in the student workspace area of Engineering Hall during the storm. We had our national competition that week, and were packing up the trailer with our formula car and various other materials and tools we would need at competition. We were almost done with packing, so we had slowed our work considerably, mostly to watch the torrential downpour outside through the open garage door. At that time, we sent one team member to go get food for the rest of us, and two others went to take a member's Chevy Nova home to avoid possible water/hail damage, as the storm looked to be increasing in intensity. Just after they left, I went outside to close my car windows, (so glad i did that, as you'll find out later), which I had just realized were left open. I remember it was raining so hard outside that it physically hurt. In addition, water was running into the machine shop, because it couldn't drain away from the building fast enough. I got soaked, to say the least, from just that brief foray outside. So I decided to content myself with just watching the storm from inside the building. Approximately 30 seconds after I had gotten back inside, or about a minute after the three team members had left the shop on their errands, was when the tornado hit. None of us knew it was a tornado at the time, I just will never forget what I saw. I specifically and vividly remember watching the rain come down, and suddenly it was raining sideways. There was a deafening roar, or a rumble, which sounded exactly like a freight train. I thought to myself, "That's exactly what people say tornadoes are supposed to sound like." That thought was immediately followed by "That's impossible" I was almost in a trance at that time, but was jolted out of my reverie by the banging of the double doors leading into the main part of the shop behind me. They had been open, but were slammed shut by the force of the wind. And my ears popped, quickly and violently, which was painful, and disorienting. That's when I, along with the three teammates who were in the room, decided to run. We headed for cover further into the interior of the building, and at this point, rocks and other debris were hurtling into the shop. I ran for the interior hallway, hoping to make it into the computer lab across the way, but the door into the hallway slammed shut in front of me. I tried to wrench it open, but was unable to, because of the pressure difference. Thankfully, there was another team member on the other side, who helped me get it open. As rocks continued to pelt into the shop, we finally got the door open, and I ducked inside. I decided to hit the deck there, and the team member that was with me got knocked down on top of me That's when the tornado must have hit the power lines, because all at once, the world went dark and silent. All I could hear was the sound of my breath, an alarm of some sort, and my teammate. We got up, brushed ourselves off, and set about looking for the rest of the team. Thankfully, we found everyone (except the three who left earlier), and miraculously, not a single person was injured. We called the three members that had left and made sure they were ok. We then immediately called 911. I called my parents, as did the rest of the team. Shocked as they were, they were just glad I was safe. We then, as a team, decided upon a venture outside. It was then, that we figured out the power of the storm that had hit us. The parking lot was a disaster. It look like someone had played yahtzee with our cars being the dice. My Grand-Am was about 35 feet away from where i had parked it, and it was definitely totaled. There was no glass left aside from the windshield, which looked like it got hit by a shotgun. The unibody of my car had been bent and twisted down around the tires, and the bumpers were nowhere to be seen. Neither words nor pictures did the devastation justice. Everyone who had a car in the lot that day had their car totaled. There was a vehicle on its roof, a project car had been tossed like a toy, and a friend's work truck was smashed to pieces. And on top of that, the only vehicle we had that was rated to tow the trailer, was also totaled. It was a vehicle we had rented from the university, and there was no glass left in it either. So after we had been evacuated by the fire department, we walked to the team captain's house and decided upon a plan of action. We made the decision then and there that we would make it to competition at any cost if we could. So the next day, the team captain, another member and I went back to EGH to see if we could finish loading what tools were left and pull the trailer (which was mostly unharmed) out of the wreckage. It took some convincing on our part, and kind-heartedness on the fire chief and police's part, but at long last, we were allowed access to the trailer. All we needed then, was a vehicle to pull it with.
We asked all the dealerships, used and new, if they could lend us another vehicle, and all said no, We called everyone, and their brother, and still the answer was the same. Then someone had the idea to call Digman Construction. They had helped move the Water Jet into the shop earlier that year, and had said then that they'd be willing to help out more. So we said, why not give it a shot. We called them up, and wouldn't you know it, they gave us the keys to a brand new Ford F-250, with less than a day's notice, for the week. It was incredible. So through the combined efforts of Platteville clean-up crew, law enforcement and fire department, with no little mount of determination from us, we were going to competition after all.
Where we placed 25th overall out of 80 teams—the best Platteville has ever done at that competition. All I can say is, what an unforgettable week.
Myself and 10 other engineering students were working diligently in the basement of Engineering Hall to get our trailer loaded up for our International Formula SAE competition that week. We had the back foot of the trailer backed into the shop to protect us from the rain that was occurring that night, and we also had a few other doors open to keep the shop cool. A few members noticed it starting to rain harder and start to get windier, so the open doors were closed. Less than a minute after that, we heard the classic 'freight train' sound that many people correlate with a tornado coming. There were no tornado sirens to warn us of the imminent danger, but as soon as everybody figured out what was happening, we all ran to try and get to the safest location possible within the building. Myself and one other member were in the computer lab across the hall, which sustained no damage, but we could feel the massive pressure fluctuations as the tornado passed over the building and we could also hear the breaking of many of the windows within the building. After we felt it was safe to reconvene, we made sure all the members were OK and called 911 to get emergency personnel into the area. We then ventured outside into the darkness (power was out to all the buildings in the area), and saw the devastation to all of the student owned vehicles in the parking lot. My vehicle was one of the nine student vehicles totaled, in which we believe one of the other vehicles in the lot caused a significant amount of the damage. All the windows were broken out, there was severe rock damage to the exterior, and a few very large dents. We were then brought to the front of the building to wait by a firetruck for safety until the situation in the area was further assessed. The next morning, the team woke up early to hopefully get our trailer, which also has significant rock damage, loaded and moved out of the parking lot. The campus vehicle we had planned on using that week to go to Lincoln, Nebraska also had all the windows broken out, but it was able to get the trailer to a safe location. There were many phone calls we made to try and procure a vehicle to get to Nebraska later that day, and eventually were able to utilize a vehicle owned by Digman Construction. Our team made it to competition and had the best year that we have ever had, finishing 25th of 80 registered teams. The storm was an unforgettable experience, but the resiliency that our team showed—by making it to competition, while worrying about our insurance claims on vehicles—that with enough motivation, anything can be accomplished.
I received a phone call at around 11:20 p.m. on June 16 from Alisha Slowey, Resident Director of Bridgeway Commons. The power had just gone out at my house (by the high school) and I was actually texting a friend about how windy it seemed outside. Alisha calmly told me that the windows had blown out of Bridgeway Commons. I asked her to repeat what she had just said and she did. I told her that I would be right there. She also indicated that the alarms were going off and University Police were on the way.
After calling the rest of the central staff team (Robin Gore, Matt Zielinski and Jen Artz— all Assistant Directors) I got in my car to head out. Matt got there first and told me that I would not be able to get there through Southwest Road and that I would even need to take sidewalks once I got on campus. The drive there was eerie with lights out and debris everywhere and I called others to alert them of what was going on in Bridgeway—Pete Davis [Director of Facilities Management], Laura Bayless [Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs], Rob Cramer [Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services].
I arrived to Bridgeway (via the sidewalk in my car) and could not believe my eyes. Cars were overturned, glass everywhere, debris, chunks of concrete. Every vehicle I could see in the parking lot was destroyed including the two that belonged to our resident directors. I had heard on the radio on the way over about straight line winds and I remember saying out loud that this was NOT straight line wind damage. I was shocked at the damage to Bridgeway, particularly the blown out glass that spanned all the floors—our brand new building. Matt met me there (Robin was turned away by emergency response crew and Jen could only get as far as Rountree).
We entered Bridgeway to alarms going off, a smell of natural gas, etc. RD Alisha met us and apprised us of who was in the building and that there was broken glass everywhere on one side of the building with water pouring in on the other. Student staff were there ready for action wanting to know what to do. Somewhere during that time we got the call that Southwest Hall's windows were blown out as well as Rountree's.
Facility staff began arriving as well as University Police. It felt like it took them forever but I know that wasn't the case. People were having a difficult time getting in with with Southwest Hall being blocked by emergency personnel. Our number one priority became getting the camp participants, summer students and New Student Registration families out of the buildings. We were in phone communication with all staff in all three buildings mobilizing and forming a plan. I decided that McGregor Hall would be where we would move everyone and directed Residence Life staff to call the other Resident Directors over to McGregor to prep for around 200 people. We also moved a few to Dobson Hall.
The residents, campers, and families were wonderful (as well as staff affiliated with those camps) following all directions, remaining calm, etc. They were all in the first floor hallway (the designated safe area for tornado) and I had gone down there several times to let them know our plan and answer questions. We worked as a team with facilities and University Police making sure we had a record of every person who was present, providing linens and organizing shifts of walking groups to McGregor.
At one point Matt and I went to Southwest Hall and again were amazed at the damage. An inch of water on the floor in the common area, windows blown out, ceiling tiles everywhere. We went on a search to find the residents and found them just as they were coming out of the designated tornado safe space led by our Resident Director, Coree Burton. No major injuries ... unbelievable.
Meanwhile, I was hearing more about the damage in Rountree. We started getting some pictures over our phones that looked very similar to the damage in Bridgeway. Jen Artz and RD Kathryn Peck were at Rountree along with the Rountree Facilities staff. Some of the camp participants in Rountree were little kids, some as young as third and fourth grade. We were having trouble figuring out the plan for them to get to McGregor due to the downed electrical wire and glass everywhere. There was so much glass that at one point, we literally got shovels from the Bridgeway front desk to shovel a pathway through the large amounts of glass by Bridgeway so people could safely pass.
University Police assisted in getting the Rountree people over to McGregor and we assigned rooms, handed out keys, and gave out snacks from our programming supply to everyone who wanted them. There was no power so we raided our RA flashlight stash which conveniently, was just supplied with batteries to prep for fall distribution to our RA staff. It was close to 2 a.m. by the time we had everyone in a safe space in McGregor Hall.
I could go on on and with what has happened since then during this recovery process but that is my account of the response that night. There are so many people who stepped up—Pete Davis and his outstanding staff, our Residence Life team of resident directors, central and summer student staff, the senior level administrators, camp directors and their staffs, Rountree facilities staff, and University Police. I hope to never go through this again, but if we do, I know we will be prepared and ready.
Well, I actually work at the Platteville Dairy Queen, and that's where I was when the tornado went through. About a half hour before the power went out I had gone outside to take an order out, and noticed how extremely hot and humid it was. I mentioned something to my co-workers but we didn't think anything of it. Then one of my co-workers went outside to tie up the tables, but quickly came back in because it started to rain buckets. When she had came back in I had gone over to the drive thru window, opened it, and looked outside. It indeed was raining really hard, the wind was blowing, and it was suddenly pretty cold. At that point I looked at one of the managers and said "It seems like tornado weather," but we just shut the window and laughed it off because we figured that would never happen around here. Maybe two minutes later the power went out. At that point we were debating weather we should consider taking cover or staying around.
Then all of the sudden we could hear a sound that kind of sounded like a freight train, and then we could feel a drop in the air pressure and feel the room get tighter. That's when one of the mangers told all of us to head for the basement. On our way down the windows were blowing out and the wind was picking up, so we ran like heck. There are plastic strips in the doorway that keep the air from going to the basement, and we didn't even have to hold them up on our way down because the wind did it for us. On top of that it was pitch black and we couldn't see anything. There were plastic crates stacked up in the vicinity of the stairs, and because we couldn't see anything they were knocked over and tumbling down the stair at the same time we were trying to get down them. When we got down there and made sure everyone was ok my reaction was simply put shocked. Like what the heck just happened? When the storm had calmed down and we were able to go back upstairs what I had seen just blew my mind away.
Being born and raised in Platteville it broke my heart to step outside and not only see the damage to Dairy Queen, but also all of the damage that surrounded us. This is my hometown and it was awful to see it suffer in this way. The next day I had gone back to Dairy Queen to help the clean up effort, and I was just as shocked as many other people who work there to see how many people came to help clean up. While I was there I had other people telling me about the overwhelming amount of people who were out and about the city helping pick it back up. It just goes to show that the citizens of Platteville have each others' back when disaster strikes. It also goes to show that we truly all are Platteville strong, and I am proud to call Platteville my hometown.
I was in the somewhat unique position of teaching an online Criminal Justice Class but not physically on campus. While I was concerned about all of the people I know on campus and in the Platteville area, my immediate worries turned to the two students in my class who I knew were on campus for the summer. Through phone and email I was able to learn from both they were okay.
I remain frustrated at not having been able to actually be on campus. However, it was wonderful to reach out to various people and touch base with them. It was also refreshing to hear from friends and family after they heard about the situation. I still believe some are not aware of the wide ranging impact the tornado has had on people's lives and campus operations.
The bottom line: while the damage was far reaching, I am grateful no lives were lost. Buildings can be fixed and signs replaced. My colleagues, students, friends, and Platteville community members cannot.
Last Tuesday morning, following the tornadoes, 13 of the 15 registrants for the 2.5 day Highway Technician Certification Program, HTCP, PCCTEC-I class were outside Ottensman Hall’s locked door. Our training is mobile, 40 of our 60 events are at remote sites.
Laurie Schuler, HTCP Office Operations Associate, suggested we move to the farm. We got out flashlights, found our materials, loaded up student cars, and caravanned to Pioneer Farm. Chuck Steiner, Director, UW-Platteville Pioneer Farm and Diane Jenkins, Office Operations Associate, were gracious hosts in accommodating our concrete class in their modern facilities.
Laurie had several students stop by her office after the third and final day of the concrete class to thank her for responding to all their phone calls, inquiries, and for making the effort to get the training in under the circumstances.
The comments section from one of the student class evaluations sums the week up: “Everyone handled (the) tornado well and made sure we held the training.”
I will be representing the Formula SAE team on campus in this story.
The night of the storm 10 members of our Formula SAE team were in the student workshop in the basement of Engineering Hall preparing to travel to our annual competition in Lincoln, Nebraska. The SAE team trailer and truck were parked partway inside one of the stalls for the shop so that we could load our trailer without getting wet.
It had been dark outside for some time and was raining quite hard. There was some wind, but nothing that raised our attention more than just your average thunderstorm. Our team members had been scattered about in the three different shop bays getting stuff ready, and two were in the adjacent computer lab when the tornado hit. I personally was in the bay with the trailer was being loaded up. I was standing on the tailgate of the trailer while another member was inside the trailer, when the following events took place.
We were talking to each other when the winds started to increase, I mentioned to him, "Man it sure is getting windy out there,” with no thoughts of it being a tornado. Then less than five seconds after I said that, the entire trailer started to rock side to side in the garage door opening. We both looked at each other, both thinking something wasn't right. Then less than a second later the iconic freight train noise came rushing in. Not one of our team members had been in a tornado before, but when we all heard that sound, we all knew what it was. Everyone took off running, yelling "TORNADO" and "RUN" to get farther in the basement of the building and to a room that was not exposed to the outside. I personally ran out of the bay I was in and over to the next bay over and closed the metal fire doors of that bay and looked to see if anyone was in the bay still. I then ran to the bay with our trailer, and the open door to the outside, and closed that bay’s metal fire doors to help prevent debris from entering farther in the shop. I then went to the door of the machine shop where a few other members were standing. During this short few seconds, some members had run to the computer lab across the hall. During this time, also, two members had to help push an exterior service door open to let a member, who had just arrived in his car, inside the shop so he would not be swept away. It took all their strength to open the door against the wind outside, and when they finally got him inside, his arms had blood from being hit with flying debris and rocks. Now as I stood with a few other members back by the machine shop door, there was a loud boom and everything went dark. Then there was another loud bang as the steel fire doors to the bay with the trailer blew open and then there was the sound of metal scraping across the floor, breaking glass and rocks hitting stuff. The blowing open of the doors also caused all of our ears to pop from the rapid change of air pressure.
The high winds inside lasted for a few seconds and then was calm again. Everyone that had not made it to the computer lab ran through the hallway going over thrown debris and into the computer lab. We all gathered in the far corner on the ground and waited with our hands over our heads. After a few minutes, we all had our flashlight apps open and did a head count to make sure everyone was accounted for. Once we confirmed everyone was there, we then had someone pull up the radar on their phone. There was a problem though, the tornado knocked out the Wi-Fi and there was no cell service that far in the basement, so we decided to wait a bit to be safe. Once we had not heard any more wind for about five minutes we ventured out of the computer lab to see what happened.
The hallway between the shop and computer lab was littered with construction materials thrown about and large metal tables on their sides. We then entered our shop where there were shards of glass, bits of leaves and many rocks thrown about inside the bay that had the trailer and the common area that joined all the bays. We all walked into the machine shop and talked about what had just happened. Everyone then called their parents to let them know what had happened and that everyone was unhurt. Once everyone had finish calling their parents we went to look outside. At first all we could see of the parking lot out the small sidelight window of the service door to the shop was the very edge of the parking lot. The rest was blocked by our truck and trailer. It did not look bad, small tree broken off and the top of a light was laying on the side walk. We then left the building in the pouring rain and walked around the truck. Between the lightning flashes and our flashlights, everyone saw a view that we will never forget and personally made what happened really set in. It was the sight of eight of our vehicles completely totaled and thrown about the parking lot. Not one was in the same place that it was parked. One was upside down on its roof with scrapes up both sides from flipping over and dragging across the parking lot. The parking lot was full of rocks and a few giant rolls of rubber from the roof of Bridgeway. We then spent the next minutes walking around and looking at all of the total cars and grabbing personal belongings from them to avoid water damage. We also checked some of the unknown vehicles to see if anyone was trapped in them. After some time of doing this, we were met by fire fighters who escorted us to the front of Engineering Hall. We then waited and reminisced of what had happened.
All of this left us with a big problem, how are we going to leave for our competition? We had just spent countless hours all year designing, fabricating, and testing our car. We couldn’t pull our trailer because the university tow vehicle was damaged and the only team member who had a truck was totaled in the parking lot. So we walked home in the rain to get some sleep and brainstorm what we should do. The next day we went back to get the final stuff from our personal vehicles. We talked the fire chief into letting us get 15 minutes to finish loading our trailer with whatever we could grab and then have them pull it to the parking lot across from Engineering Hall so that we could take it if we find a tow vehicle. Some members started calling family and friends trying to borrow a truck while a few others went to all the local dealerships to try and rent or borrow one for the week, but no one would let us borrow a truck. Then someone mentioned Robert Digman, owner of Digman Construction Co. he had recently helped install some stuff in our shop and said if we ever needed help to let him know. So he gratefully lent us his son’s brand new truck to borrow for the week at no cost. We then hitched our trailer and drove all the way to Nebraska for our competition. We did not have all of our stuff so we resorted to fabricating on the spot to make what was left behind and borrowed tools from other teams. All said and done, our car took 25th overall out of almost 70 nationwide and even global teams. This was our best year yet and set a very could image of the university and its engineering department.
I was taking the Explore Engineering course this summer. I arrived on Sunday night and was all settled in on the sixth floor of Rountree Commons. Monday, I attended several classes and went to our rooms at 10 p.m. Not long after, I felt the hair on my neck raise, the air pressure in the building change. I looked around and grabbed my laptop and a couple of other expensive items and evacuated. The next morning I had no idea if I still had a vehicle. Luckily I didn't read the parking instructions very well, and parked in the wrong lot. Had I parked in the one I was supposed to, the vehicle that I inherited from my grandmother would have been a total loss. I believe she was watching over me that day. I found out later the room I was staying in had received the most damage with the roof caving in. I drove down to the college twice since the tornado to retrieve my belongings. My thanks to Lynn Hartl for the amazing support that night and over the next month helping me retrieve most of my things.
I live on Second Street out by the golf course in the valley where the second tornado went through in a small house. I was at home with a friend when the storm started. We turned on the scanner and heard that the spotters had been called out and that hail was expected so my friend left to get his truck into a garage at his house. I was then there alone when it started to get really bad outside, my dad had gone out with the spotters, so I called my mom who was also home alone and we were on the phone when the windows in the house started to shake and move more than I had ever seen them. I then took shelter in the basement and while down there I heard a loud crash. After the noise had died down I went upstairs to see a huge tree branch had fallen on my car and house. Luckily not a whole lot of damage was done. If the tree had fallen to the right just a foot it would have broken all the windows that side of the house and if it had fallen to the left anymore it would have completely destroyed my car. Thankfully the car was fine with just a few scratches, the roof took most of the damage and the corner of the house was broken. When the path of the tornado was revealed i saw that it had been a couple hundred yards from the house.
As a Public Servant of many different roles, for many combined years, the experience at the university during an EF2 tornado was a first time in my career. I have volunteered as a firefighter—18 years, EMT—16 years, deputy sheriff—14 years and two years as a University of Wisconsin police officer. Nothing I have encountered relating to property damage, even compares to the aftermath of the tornado.
I was on duty at the time of the storm, and had reported to work at 9 p.m. for shift briefing with my shift partner Officer Tuescher. We were aware there was a thunderstorm approaching the area and there were no indicators the storm had potential for anything but rain and wind.
Once on patrol and beginning my duties, I was conducting some building lock-ups and had reached Ullsvik Hall for my last lock-up at approximately 11:30 p.m. As I was keying into the south doors the storm had come upon the university, and a very strong wall of rain began to fall. I call it a wall of rain, as it was one of those storms that don't build up, but rather transition from calm to strong immediately. I was able to get into the building getting a little wet, but I remember thinking "I ducked in from that one just in time." I was hoping the building lock-up would take the time for the heavy rain to pass so I could safely return to the patrol car.
I had not been in the lower level very long when the power in the building went out, this released the electronic door magnets. So the lights going out and the sound of many closing corridor doors was a bit of a surprise. My radio began to report "call box tamper alarms" from several locations, indicating the storm or debris was causing several call boxes to think they are being hit or kicked by someone which is the normal cause for the tamper alarm. The call boxes were reporting from the area of the memorial park, which was indicating where the strong wind or rain was currently located. At this time, we still had no idea what was actually taking place upon the campus.
The power in Ullsvik Hall restored as normal, and soon after I was contacted by Platteville Police dispatch over the radio informing me there was a report of a broken window in the lobby of Bridgeway Commons. I left Ullsvik Hall to respond to the broken window, at this time the rain and wind had come down to a much lighter strength.
I drove across the university from Ullsvik Hall to Bridgeway Commons, seeing only small twigs blown from trees. I traveled the sidewalk to Longhorn Drive and crossed, traveling between Engineering Hall and Bridgeway Commons.
As I came upon the opening between the buildings, I was pointing towards the entry to lot #27. This is where I first observed and indication something powerful had passed through, I saw a silver SUV vehicle upside down in its roof in the roadway between lots #27 and #30.
I got out and looked around, seeing many vehicles which appeared to be moved into the east corner of lot #30 near Engineering Hall. The parking lot light poles were all bent down to the ground. A vehicle had obviously tumbled from its parking spot, over the parking meters. All the patio furniture was blown into lot #30. The pavement was covered by medium sized river rocks, at this time I had no idea where they had come from.
I walked to the Bridgeway lobby and checked on the reason for my arrival, the broken window. I located the large window on the south of the lobby near the fireplace which was broken from storm damage. I called John Niehaus to inform him of the window, and of what I had observed outside. I remember telling him, "I can't be sure that a tornado didn't come through here." John stated he would be right in.
My second phone call was to Police Chief Scott Marquardt to inform him of what I am observing. I guess I am not easily shaken or I have a way of playing things down, because as I was telling Chief Marquardt about the scene, I informed him that at this time there is major property damage from the passed storm, but no injuries have been reported. I told him there were broken windows, over turned cars, light poles are down but I have contacted John Niehaus who was coming in to evaluate. I have to admit, that I wanted Chief Marquardt to be confident that we could handle a situation without having to call him in a panic saying "what do we do!!" Chief Marquardt, based on the information he was provided by me, and my calm communication felt the storm damage would be handled and if anything changed to call him back (really at this time we had no idea what had happened and how big our affected area was). I went back outside and flashed my light around seeing more of Engineering Hall, Southwest Hall and Bridgeway Commons. I observed broken windows to Southwest Hall on each floor up to the sixth level. There were more broken windows on Bridgeway and Engineering Hall. Every vehicle had severe damage from the flying rocks and being overturned. The size of what we were dealing with was starting to indicate there was going to be more of this, we should start to think in an emergency response team frame of mind. I contacted Chief Marquardt a second time letting him know this was big, and we should have him come in, which he agreed.
A group of Engineering students who had been working on the race car for competition the next day had emerged from the lower garage shop doors of Engineering Hall. The team leader stated everyone was accounted for and okay. The group had one of the garage doors open with the enclosed trailer backed up to the door. Some of the storm debris entered the shop area but they had found shelter and were all unharmed, their vehicles however made up a large percent of the destroyed cars in lot #30. Those students were evacuated to the Fire Department who were blocking off Longhorn Drive due to a power line down on Southwest Road.
I left the immediate area and patrolled to the other areas of campus on the south border to check for other areas of severe damage. I traveled to the Circle Drive. resident halls and only observed some downed trees. I turned my focus to personal safety, and I was aware there were band camp visitors staying in Dobson Hall. I traveled to Dobson Hall and was met at the door by the Resident Director Rebecca Groves, who informed me everyone was okay and they had gathered all the campers at the lower level, where they were keeping them calm. I thanked her and told her that we did not know what happened yet but there is severe property damage. I asked them to "work their magic" to keep the campers calm and assure them, they are safe.
I left Dobson Hall and traveled to Royce Hall where we house Confucius Institute staff and some other individuals on the top floor. I walked through and was surprised, that no one was awake and even aware the storm had passed. The building was unaffected and I did not want to wake occupants to tell them, "there was a storm and you are safe" so I traveled back to the most affected area of Bridgeway Commons and the surrounding buildings.
I was aware that damage had been reported to the Rountree Commons building and Officer Tuescher was at that scene. Sgt. Jason Williams and Chief Marquardt were both coming in to assist with our assessment and upcoming tasks.
I entered Southwest Hall through the north doors to the lower laundry area. I could not believe the damage to that wing, seeing the ceiling tiles fallen to the floor, water running from the ceiling, electrical wires exposed, a complete disaster. The entire feeling of the scene was that of a war zone, nothing else would describe the amount of damage that I can think to compare it to.
I made my way to locate staff. The RD and RAs were working to get the occupants accounted for according to their housing list. Residents were gathering necessary property and forming groups in the halls to prepare for evacuation. I was informed of a female occupant with an injured leg on the second floor. I made my way to the second floor and met the resident with the injured leg. She stated she was outside by the west door when the storm came in. She stated "I was by the door, the next thing I know I was blown over there". After speaking with her and seeing the abrasions on her leg, she stated she did not need EMS and would be fine getting first aid from a friend. This would be the only injury reported to me during the incident.
From this point, efforts were coordinated to begin evacuation from the damaged buildings to the non-affected buildings. Southwest Hall and Rountree Commons completed this act under excellent direction of Residence Life staff. Rountree Commons evacuation of basketball camp, and engineering camp was conducted by us officers leading all students in one of two groups across campus, to Doudna Hall by flashlight. This process went smoothly without incident and we did our best to keep you younger campers from being frightened due to the power being out, storm damage and the potential for another storm to enter our area which was on radar.
With all occupied affected buildings evacuated, our police role went to checking all other buildings to be sure of all hazards which may exist but have not yet been found. The academic area was checked by Sgt. Williams and I with no hazards found.
This experience has shown me how several well trained departments within the university can work together to solve problems and quickly react to a situation that was only once a scenario, but now realized. This can be a once in a career experience for me to be quite honest, but if we had to deal with it again, I am confident in the staff within the university to respond and react as well or better than we had this time. It was still ..."A Great Day To Be A Pioneer."
There are many people with many stories about the tornado that swept through the UW-Platteville campus on the night of June 16, 2014. This is my story. It is a story about an attempt to attend New Student Registration with my son, Logan Wichmann, … or as my husband likes to call it our 2 ¼ hour drive to Platteville and back for ice cream …
My son, Logan, and I drove to UW-Platteville on Monday, June 16, for New Student Registration. We arrived at Bridgeway Commons and got our dorm beds made up shortly before the ice cream social. We had a nice time at the social talking to the few other new freshmen and parents that attended and we got some good information from the UW-Platteville staff that was there.
After the ice cream social we retired to our rooms and at around 10:30 p.m. we went bed. Ironically, just before settling in I post on Facebook "Sleeping in a college dorm room during a thunderstorm!! Sounds like the start to a horror movie ... I will let you know if I make it through the night :-)." Who could have known what was about to transpire …
Shortly after shutting off the lights, and a few minutes into a show on Netflix, I thought I heard a freight train passing by. It sounded like it was passing right over my room, but I thought to myself "there are no trains near here" and I let the thought go ... then came what sounded like really hard hail slamming against the building, which of course was glass shattering, although not in our rooms. Again, I went back to the show without giving it too much thought—until a moment later when the emergency alarms started blaring telling us there had been an emergency reported in the building and that we were to exit immediately.
I didn't smell smoke or anything, so I decided I had time to gather my things. When the lights didn't come on, however, I thought perhaps I should take this a little more seriously. I made my way through the dark bathroom that separated my room from Logan’s and asked if he was awake. He was so we grabbed most of our things and went out into the hallway where at least there were lights. A lot of people were already milling around in the first floor hallway outside of our rooms. Many were sitting on the floor against the walls so we found a spot and joined them—listening to stories about widows breaking out and water rushing in on the floors above.
No one seemed overly concerned, but no one seemed to know exactly what to do either, so we sat … and we waited … I posted on Facebook … sent a few emails … and sat … and waited some more … all the while the alarm blaring—alternating between loud siren sounds and this message “Attention, attention, there has been an emergency reported in the building, please leave the building immediately using designated stairways and exits.” So, of course, this being Logan’s first college dorm experience and all, I took a short video.
After a while I went back into the room to get the rest of my things. I heard a trickling sound coming from the bathroom ... It was dark so I used the light from my phone to see what it was. The ceiling light was ajar and water was streaming down onto the bathroom floor—naturally I snapped a photo.
I came out of the dark room and sat back down next to Logan along the wall in the hallway. Still, no one knew what was going on. I felt bad for the students who were trying to figure out what to do. Everyone was calm, but also quite confused, so we sat some more … until finally, about two hours after leaving our rooms, alarms still blaring and significant size puddles having now formed in several places along the floor of the hallway, we began evacuating the building. Staff was handing out shoes for those who had left theirs on the floors above as they exited amidst broken glass and everyone was given a sheet set to take with them. Reaching the end of the hallway, we got our first glimpse at what had happened. The large windows in the lobby had been shattered and when we walked outside it looked like a war zone. Who could have imagined that just a few hours after my auspicious Facebook post about the night having the makings of a horror story, we would be walking by shattered windows, over turned cars and past a graveyard with the only light on campus coming from the occasional bolts of lightning across the sky?
Following the crowd, we soon reached our destination—a new dorm building, this time with no electricity, even in the hallways, but also no broken glass … a reasonable upgrade even if we did have to share a room without air-conditioning and although the only bathroom nearby was a men’s room down hall, which of course I had to use a couple of hours later, but that’s a story for another day.
First thing the next morning, or rather later that same morning, upon awaking we made our way out of our room to the lobby where our only instructions came from a sign that said everything was canceled and to have a safe journey home. After grabbing a few “emergency provisions”—snack bars and such—that had been left in the lobby, and just over 12 hours after we had arrived, we made our way back past the graveyard to our car, which was parked across from the engineering building … all the while keeping our fingers crossed that we would find the car undamaged. It was, but others nearby had not been so lucky. Windows and been blown out and one (five cars away) had taken some shrapnel, but that was nothing compared to the scene behind the engineering building.
Still early, with no one else around, we walked over to Bridgeway commons where our evening had begun … thankful we had not been allowed to leave our car in the lot by the commons where we had parked to check in the night before—what a mess! Many pictures later, heading back to our car we meet a gentleman who worked for the university … high winds, he thought, coupled by the wind tunnel effect caused by the three buildings had likely caused the damage. Looking around at the trees as we returned to our car, I was pretty sure it had been more than a wind tunnel. I had seen trees like that before—not just broken, but twisted … hours later my suspicions would be confirmed. It had, in fact, been a tornado.
It was terrifying. I didn't even know there was a possibility of a tornado. My little brother was visiting my in Bridgeway commons for the week and I had just received a text message from my best friend on the north side of town that she was outside taking care of her horses. There was lightning striking everywhere. I was immediately terrified for my best friend. I was worried she might get struck by lightning. So, I jumped up and opened the window and my brother followed. We were listening to the lightning with the window open as I frantically tried to determine whether it was striking near her.
Then things started to change. My ears started to pop. I asked my brother Connor, "Are your ears popping?" "Yes," he said. I only realized it was a tornado when I looked out at the ground and all of a sudden the rain drops started spiraling. So, I looked at Connor and said, "RUN!"
He ran for the door, but was too late, the pressure started to drop, our ears started to pop as if taking off in an airplane, and the air sucked out of the room. I ran after him, he had hit the floor by the door, so I dove on top of him to protect him. That's all I could think to do. The only thought on my mind in that moment was, "I have to save my brother! If one of us makes it, it better be him!" Then the windows started to bow inward, the ceiling shook, the walls shook, water came in, and there was a loud, screeching noise. I thought we were going to die. If the tornado had struck one second sooner, I would not have made it to my brother in time.
The burglary alarm went off in the building, because of all the windows shattering. So, after Connor was able to pry the door open, we ran downstairs to the safety of the first floor. Then we sat there and listened to everyone else freak out for a while until the Director of Resident Life came in and said "This building is not safe, we need to move all of you right now. Go to your rooms, grab only what you absolutely need. Then come back. You are going to McGregor." Then we went up and grabbed stuff. My room was under 5 inches of water and the bathroom was like a waterfall.
Then we proceeded downstairs and went outside. It was like a war zone. Bike racks ripped out of the concrete and mangled like pretzels, cars upside down and in places way far from where they should be, cars that look like a herd of rhinos hit them, light poles sheared off, trees snapped in half, windows and glass broken everywhere, lobbies collapsed, shingles everywhere, chunks of bricks torn off of the sides of buildings. Then we walked to McGregor. I called people to tell them I was okay, then prayed, and went to sleep.
I was getting ready to leave my friends house Monday night when we noticed very strong winds and the power going out. My friend looked out his window to see the trees just spinning in circles and just like that something shook the house and shifted an extra bed in his room about 2 feet. The tool box on that bed flew to hit his dresser. We ran down to the basement but didn't shut the basement door so I went to shut the door and saw something that seemed like a roof flying at the front door. When the storm calmed door my friend went outside to help the neighbors. I opened the front door and could hear grown men screaming for "Carrie." The following morning I saw the damage to my friends house. The deck was destroyed and there was a hole in the wall where the object had hit. The solar panels next door were completely down and later that afternoon I found out that the "Carrie" the men were screaming for was hospitalized it Madison. It was definitely a night I won't ever forget.
I was in my home one mile north of the campus and I was watching the radar and the sky closely. Even the broadcast from The Weather Channel out of Georgia in the hours before the tornado hit was showing the strong front line with its tell-tale "backward C" heading right for Platteville! The men in the broadcast were telling people in Southwest Wisconsin to take cover immediately. I could see the western horizon line back-lit by lightning, and there were the jagged hanging-down clouds along the front as it moved toward town! I tried hard to see any that seemed to be funnel clouds, but the tornado that hit the campus was just south of where I could see clearly. I knew it was a bad storm, but I didn't know how bad until the next morning when I was told not to report to work until structural damage to buildings on campus could be assessed. We of course had no electricity, so I didn't yet know Plattevillians who had moved away were getting news feeds of the tornado and were frantically trying to contact us to see if everyone was all right. When I carefully ventured out, being sure not to be in the way, all I saw from then on were professionals and volunteers working hard to keep people safe as they addressed the damage on campus, in the neighborhood that was hit so hard, and along the business highway. The next evening I stood at a distance and looked at the damage to Memorial Park (or the College Picnic Grounds as it used to be called) and I was struck by how it looked like photos my father had brought home of places that were bombed out in World War II. So many trees were twisted and stripped. While looking at the park, I met a family with two young sons who lived only yards away from the path of the tornado, and they were in shock to think they had been sleeping on the second floor of their home and had not known to go for shelter. Everywhere I went people were coming together to work hard and fix things, and also everywhere I went people were amazed and so thankful that no one had died. I know the one seriously injured woman has a long road ahead of her to recovery, and I still stop to think of her and pray for her every day. What an amazing bunch of people live and work in Platteville!