Rural ND family survives tornado that destroys their home

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal

MOTT, N.D. (AP) — Gayle Olson held on to his family as they listened to the indescribable sounds of a tornado tearing their home apart.

Those three long minutes starting at 8:10 p.m. Tuesday taught him everything he needs to know about how dear life really is.

The Olson home, located about 5 miles southwest of Mott, was destroyed by an EF1 tornado with a viciously spinning wind of 105 mph, according to the National Weather Service investigation team that was at the scene Wednesday morning.

The tornado was on the family so fast — twisting in the trees 240 yards away one moment and roaring down their driveway the next — they just had time to hurl themselves face-down into the hallway of the house. Josh Qualls, who had been watching the storm approach from a window, was a minute behind. He groped his way through the blinding vortex of insulation and debris to reach the rest of the family.

Gayle Olson said he held his arms across his wife, daughter and baby granddaughter with such force he feared he'd leave bruises. He heard the baby squeak in protest, but there was no way he was going to let up while the winds, rain and hail were inside the house.

"I was scared. I knew the house was leaving, but I didn't know how bad," Olson said. "I could feel the power and I was worried that we were going to lift off. I kept saying, 'Nobody moves. Do not move.'"

His wife, Jodi Olson, started reciting the Lord's Prayer, hoping the words "thy will be done" wouldn't mean the worst. On Wednesday, while still in shock at her mother's home in Mott, she was grateful that no one was injured and all their lives were spared.

"I just didn't want us to go up into the air," she told The Bismarck Tribune. "I'm so thankful we're all alive."

Caitlyn Olson held her and Qualls' 7-month-old baby, Ava, under her shirt to prevent her from choking on the blizzard of insulation circling through the house.

"I had a few seconds to look up, and I could see a big hole where the roof was gone," she said.

After the tornado passed, insulation covered everything and was packed in solid masses behind their glasses. The garage had disappeared, scattered over a mile to the northeast. The house was opened to the sky overhead. Inside was a scene of utter destruction.

The family packed up what they could gather Wednesday morning and left for a long-planned vacation in celebration of Jodi Olson's mother's 80th birthday. It seemed odd to be leaving, but, as Jodi Olson said, there wasn't much to do immediately; the damage had been done.

They'd only lived on this rural hillside for a year and loved the quiet, the crops growing up to their property and the wildlife. If they rebuild, "the first thing is a bomb shelter," Jodi Olson said. This house, moved over from New Leipzig, had no basement, but was secured to the floor beam with 13 tie-downs on each side.

The tornado also did some damage to a nearby farmstead belonging to Lynn Miller and his son, Dominic Miller. They lost trees, power and corrals, and they will need new shingles, siding and general cleanup.

They were feeling lucky, though — if luck is knowing how much worse it could have been.

"We were fortunate. We lost little," Lynn Miller said.