LITTLE FALLS, Minn. - The National Weather Service now says it was a tornado that caused extensive damage at the Minnesota National Guard's Camp Ripley.
A line of storms packing heavy winds rolled through Morrison County after 10 p.m. Wednesday. The National Weather Service reports an EF-1 tornado, with winds up to 90 miles-per-hour, touched down at approximately 10:34 p.m. It was about 50 yards wide and was on the ground between 7 and 8 miles.
The tornado caused major damage to Camp Ripley housing, training and maintenance facilities. There was also major damage to the 10-megawatt solar array that was set to be dedicated next week.
"It was a complete surprise to us when it came,” said Colonel Scott St. Sauver, who is Camp Ripley’s post commander. "As you come down and see this kind of damage you say, ‘Oh my goodness, it really was a shock’.”
St. Sauver, who is the only person who lives full time on the grounds, said there was no warning. Several dozens of soldiers and civilians were sleeping in the impacted areas as tornado rolled through. No was injured, he said.
Staff Sergeant Tanya Tschida was on the first floor of a two story building that was damaged when a portion of the roof blew off and landed close to her car. She said she didn’t hear it.
"I actually happened to be sleeping in my bed,” she recalled. “I looked out my door and saw two inches of water.”
Her car was damaged, along with the vehicle next to hers. Camp Ripley staff members say another car was picked up and dropped several feet away.
As far as the solar array, it will be Minnesota Power's first solar power plant, according to the company. A company spokesperson told KARE 11 they are in the planning stages on how to fix it.
“This project was coming to an end and we were going to have a ribbon cutting next week,” said Staff Sergeant Anthony Housey. “It took out everything it its path.”
Now the cleanup and repair is underway.
"No one knew this was going to produce this kind of surgical storm,” said St. Sauver.