“Tornadoes sliced like scythes Wednesday evening through Northeastern Minnesota, killing at least 17 persons, injuring scores of others and causing widespread property damage.”
That’s how the Duluth News Tribune opened its front-page storm coverage on Aug. 7, 1969, a day after a spate of twisters that raked across the region.
When it was over, 15 people had died in Aitkin, Cass and St. Louis counties — though the News Tribune initially had reported 17, and that day's Duluth Herald listed 14. More than 100 people were injured.
Two people were killed in the Boulder Lake area, while 12 bodies were brought to a funeral home in Walker in Cass County, the News Tribune reported. Among the injured in Cass County were 40 small children staying at a camp on Roosevelt Lake, near Outing, Minn.
In Floodwood, about a dozen farms were destroyed, News Tribune staff writer John Carman wrote. Few saw the “twin-funneled tornado” touch the ground, but nearly all heard its roar, Carman wrote.
“The sound was described in terms of ‘noise like airplanes’ or ‘constant thunder,’” he wrote.
Power was out, and telephone service to Floodwood and near Alborn was cut off. The injured were taken to hospitals in Duluth, Hibbing and Cloquet.
Rescue efforts were hampered by downed trees and power lines, the News Tribune reported, and darkness grounded flights to bring the injured to hospitals.
The next day’s News Tribune, on Aug. 8, identified the two people killed near Boulder Lake as Mrs. Dennis Hietala, 30, of Hagberg Street in Duluth; and her mother-in-law, Mrs. Arthur Hietala, 50, of rural Aurora.
The News Tribune also identified the other 11 victims known at the time. Most were killed at or near Roosevelt Lake near Outing. The oldest was 80 years old; the youngest, just a child.
Gov. Harold LeVander declared St. Louis and Cass counties as disaster areas as crews cleared debris from roadways and veterinarians worked to save injured farm animals.
“It’s unbelievable that anything could cause so much destruction,” St. Louis County Sheriff Greg Sertich told the News Tribune after surveying the damage. “Although we were hit hard, I thank God we didn’t lose more lives.”