An EF2 tornado hit the southwest and southern part of Platteville, and an EF1 tornado hit the north side of Platteville Monday night,
A reported 12 houses were destroyed, with 20 other homes and UW–Platteville buildings damaged. Five people were reported injured.
The National Weather Service La Crosse office Tuesday afternoon confirmed what it called the “’low-end’ EF2” tornado with maximum wind speeds of 120 mph.
Power went out around 11 p.m. and was not restored to most of Platteville as of Tuesday afternoon. Most of Platteville was completely dark overnight, with light provided only by passing vehicles, emergency vehicle lights, the few buildings equipped with generators, and lightning in the clouds.
Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency at a press conference at Platteville High School Tuesday morning, after an emergency meeting with the Platteville Common Council.
The track of what may have been a tornado or straight-line winds appeared to run from the southwest end of the UW–Platteville campus, in the area of Southwest Hall, the engineering building and Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium, then east around South Chestnut Street south of Southwest Road, then along West Business 151 east of Water Street.
A tornado watch and flash flood watch were in effect, but no tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service.
Employees of DQ Grill & Chill were closing the store around 10:55 p.m. when the area was hit by heavy rain, followed by high wind, followed by no wind. The employees went to the store’s basement as, they said, the pressure changed and the windows blew out.
Across Business 151 at the Shell gas station, a tractor–trailer tipped over, a brick wall crumbled, and the gas pump canopy was destroyed.
Wisconsin 80/81 was closed at Platteville’s south city limit because of extensive damage, including tree limbs and downed or low power lines.
Platteville resident Charles Bull said a piece of drywall from across the street went through one of his windows. The Bull house had less damage than others in the neighborhood, though, which Bull credited to quality construction.
Platteville firefighters and the two EMS ambulances were out all night around Platteville, moving out to areas around Platteville when the sun rose to check for damage outside the city. Fire departments and EMS ambulances throughout Grant County staged at Piggly Wiggly to respond to calls beginning around midnight. The Southwest Wisconsin Technical Rescue team also responded to Platteville.
The fire station served as the city’s emergency management center before it moved to the police station Tuesday morning. In addition to Platteville and UW–Platteville police and Grant County sheriff’s deputies, police from other areas as far away as Sauk and Green counties, and the Wisconsin State Patrol patrolled the area.
The most damage to homes appeared Tuesday morning to be in the area of West Gridley Avenue and South Chestnut Street. One house on Staley Avenue was completely destroyed, and a house across the street had its roof taken off.
South Chestnut was blocked off at Southwest Road, and the neighborhood north of McDonald’s was closed off after 9 a.m. except for people who got wristbands at the Platteville Regional Chamber office. That neighborhood was to be evacuated after 8 p.m.
UW–Platteville closed campus Tuesday because of the extensive damage to the west end of campus. A band camp and engineering camp were canceled for the week.
Near Southwest Hall and the engineering building, a car was flipped over, and an SUV had its windows shattered with damage possibly from flying debris.
One of the light towers on Pioneer Stadium’s west side crashed onto the bleachers. Several rows of bleachers were bent. A building on the back side of the stadium was tipped over, and there was extensive tree damage at the stadium and in the area.
There was damage elsewhere in Platteville. A roof was taken off an apartment building on De Valera Drive near the Platteville Golf and Country Club.
A tornado also may have hit Mineral Point around 11 p.m., with barn and tree damage at U.S. 151 and Lafayette County A. A 49-mph wind gust was reported in Belmont.
People whose homes were uninhabitable due to storm damage were first taken to Piggly Wiggly before they were moved to Platteville High School. PHS also was the site of coordination of volunteer cleanup efforts.
Platteville schools canceled summer school classes Tuesday. The Platteville Family Aquatic Center was closed.
Waiting out the storm
When the storm was blowing through, over at Dunkin Donuts, Alicia Taylor and Kelly Champeau were working the night shift.
“My coworker had told me to come to the front as she thought (the storm) was so powerful,” Taylor, the shift leader recalled. As Alicia made her way towards the front, the power went out in the entire building.
Luckily, the store is equipped with emergency lights that came on. Following protocol, Alicia continued her way to the front doors, as they are suppose to lock up if the power is lost. The wind was blowing hard.
“I go to the front, and the front doors are just flying at me,” Taylor stated. Anticipating the destructive nature coming, Taylor grabbed Champeau and ran to the bathrooms, which they are instructed to do in the event of a storm.
“Thankfully we had just cleaned it,” Alicia joked.
It was not a joking matter as the pair sat in the restroom for the next half-hour as they could hear the storm rip into the building. “We could just hear glass being shattered,” Alicia said. “We were holding each other, our hearts were racing….. We didn’t know if the building was going to be crumbling into the ground.”
After that time to let the storm pass, they ventured out of the bathroom. The emergency lights illuminated the store, showing half the windows broken, and the front doors ripped apart. “It was just hanging there,” Taylor said of the door.
The pair called the store manager, and waited. They thought about cleaning up, but had to preserve the damage so it could be documented. They peered out the broken windows, watching ambulances fly past, also feeling the urge to go out and see if anyone needed help at any of the other stores along Business 151, but couldn’t leave their posts.
Soon after, the fire department stopped in to make sure everyone was ok. “We were just relieved that people were being checked out,” Alicia stated. “I was just glad we didn’t get hurt.”
Once the store manager showed up, Champeau and Taylor ventured outside. Taylor found her car with several windows blown out, a massive dent in the trunk panel, and large shards of metal strewn around it. Taylor had to leave her vehicle in the parking lot, and Champeau’s boyfriend gave her a lift back to her apartment. The path home was filled with detours, as taylor noted that portions of Business 151, and STH 80 were shut down “for as far as I could see” as emergency crews worked to help clear the debris. She eventually made it to her parents' home outside of Lancaster, as her apartment was without power.