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Tornado rips through rural Wisconsin town

Officials said the tornado caused "major damage" to Ladysmith.  

LADYSMITH, Wisconsin (CNN) -- A tornado ripped through this northwestern Wisconsin town on Monday, hitting downtown buildings, downing power lines and injuring dozens, officials said.

There were no immediate reports of fatalities.

The tornado swept through town in mid-afternoon and cut a swath of destruction through downtown and nearby residential areas at a time when many residents were at home for the Labor Day holiday. Glass and debris littered the streets. Several buildings were reduced to rubble.

"It looks like it's been bombed. There's just a lot of destruction, a lot of debris," said Michael Bartz, a state emergency official.

Joan Wilkinson sat on the stoop of her two-story yellow house, all the windows blown out. It was the only structure left standing within sight.

A tornado ripped through northwestern Wisconsin, cutting a path of destruction that has left dozens injured in the town of Ladysmith (September 3)

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Churches, a town water tower -- a gallery of images  shows the tornado damage suffered by the town of Ladysmith, Wisconsin.

"While I was in my kitchen I heard this terrible roar coming," she said. "It sounded like a freight train coming right down my road here. And I have a little closet between my living room and my dining room, and that's the only place that doesn't have a window, so I was in there."

A weary smile on her face, Wilkinson said the closet refuge probably saved her life.

"It could have been a lot worse," she said. "My landlord lives right behind me. He lost his whole house and garage."

Bartz said at least 60 residential and commercial structures in the town of 4,000 were heavily damaged, and a number of them were flattened. The grid of streets in the rural riverside town was littered with pieces of wood and debris.

Bartz said there were several natural gas leaks, making the area extremely dangerous, and officials were working to cut off the gas lines before search-and-rescue operations get under way in the hardest hit areas.

Authorities imposed a curfew on the town beginning at 8 p.m. (9 p.m. ET), to remain in effect until 7 a.m. Tuesday. Local schools were being used as shelters, and state troopers and other emergency personnel were dispatched to the region.

Jan Neuman, the director of nursing at Rusk County Memorial Hospital, said the hospital treated dozens of people, most with lacerations. The most seriously injured were taken to other regional medical centers, she said.

"We're still treating and have more patients coming in," Neuman said more than four hours after the tornado hit.

She said she heard there were "many, many houses that were hit."

"There are some homes that are gone," Neuman said.

Dan McCarthy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the tornado touched around 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. ET). He said it was part of a line of storms moving through central Wisconsin on Monday evening.

Ladysmith is located along the Flambeau River in northwestern Wisconsin about 100 miles south of Duluth, Minnesota.

"This is a good little town," Wilkinson said. "Whenever disaster hits, people are right out helping one another right away."


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