Hartland community continues rebuilding after historic December tornado


HARTLAND, Minnesota (KEYC) – December 15, 2021 is a day that many Hartland residents will remember forever. It was a day when an unprecedented tornado swept through the city and swept away almost everything in its path.

Today, reconstruction has begun and the city is starting to get a facelift.

Few traces remain of the EF-2 tornado which severely damaged many homes.

“As you can see, if you drive around the city today, other than some of the big buildings, most of the tracks are gone,” said Todd Earl, chief deputy with the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office.

JR Henderson’s house was in the path of the tornado. Henderson says that night the sirens stopped and he looked out the front door when he thought he heard what sounded like a tractor outside.

“When I opened the door, the garage hit the front of the house a block away,” Henderson recalled.

Henderson had just seen his neighbor’s garage door slam in his house, land in a crumpled heap outside his front door, pushing him back inside.

“The garage a block from where it was hit hit me [and] knocked me down. The garage has gone a third of the way into the living room,” he said.

The damage caused by this event is what Henderson is still working to repair. He says he is doing the work himself, with the only help so far being contractors who helped refurbish his roof.

Henderson said the first thing on his list of repairs was to replace the windows.

“It took me nine weeks to get windows. Then it took another seven weeks to get storm windows.

Just where the tornado made its way, volunteers immediately marched through the town of more than 300 residents to clear the streets and remove debris.

“People I didn’t even know helped me get the stuff off the porch,” Henderson said.

In the town’s main square, an empty space where a gazebo once stood can still be seen next to a partially destroyed building, all of which sits opposite a badly damaged bank. These are two main buildings in the town whose fate has yet to be determined.

For months, Hartland residents had to travel 13 miles just to get their mail due to post office damage, but thanks to reconstruction efforts, Hartland residents can now access a post office at the town hall on the main street.

“They did the remodeling there, set everything up and picked up the mail here,” said Freeborn County Emergency Management Director Rich Hall.

The chaos of December 15 is something city leaders will never forget, especially when they reflect on how far they have come in six months.

“I love seeing communities come together like this. I wish they did this all the time, but in situations like this you really see it coming out,” Earl said.

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