IMAGE: HOMES HIT BY TORNADO
Andy Manis  /  AP
Some of the homes damaged or destroyed by a tornado in Stoughton, Wis., are seen here Friday morning.
updated 8/22/2005 10:34:50 AM ET 2005-08-22T14:34:50

A tornado killed one person and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes as it roared through this southern Wisconsin city late Thursday in what one witness described as an explosion across the sky.

The victim was identified as a 54-year-old man whose home near Stoughton collapsed. At least five other people were hospitalized, state emergency management spokeswoman Lori Getter said.

Getter said a natural gas leak caused the evacuation of about 200 residents.

Fifteen homes were leveled and 30 others had moderate to severe damage in the town of 12,500 near Madison in south-central Wisconsin, she said.

The storms also caused extensive damage in the village of Viola, in southwestern Wisconsin. Three people there were hospitalized and about 70 to 80 homes were damaged, Getter said.

“There’s houses half gone. All the trees in town are gone,” said Bill Bender, owner of the Viola Quick Stop. “There was stuff flying by the building, like big chunks.”

18 twister reports across state
The National Weather Service is investigating reports of 18 possible tornadoes around the state, spokesman Greg Davis said.

IMAGE: WISCONSIN RESIDENTS AFTER TORNADO
Andy Manis  /  AP
Residents of Stoughton, Wis., wait in line outside City Hall Friday for arm bands so they can return to their homes to inspect damage after a tornado ripped through Thursday evening.
Stoughton Mayor Helen Johnson said that when the twister struck, emergency personnel were still working to clean up after a fire that gutted a local church and adjoining school Wednesday. “There’s a lot of sad people, but we’re going to pull together,” she said.

A witness captured the tornado on his camera phone.

“The sky just exploded. It was debris everywhere,” said David Murray, 43. “When it went across the road and it hit all the houses over there ... it was something you can’t explain.”

Murray said he was going from Stoughton to his home nearby “and, bam, it was there, and it grew and it grew.” He and others helped tend to the injured.

Debris in Milwaukee
Storm debris traveled eastward in clouds, depositing papers, shingles and other materials in the Milwaukee area, some 60 miles from Stoughton.

Murray described seeing a smashed truck upside down in the middle of a wrecked house, and debris, including an engine block, strewn across the nearby Stoughton Country Club.

As the storm approached, golfers had started coming off the course, and about 40 people huddled in the club’s basement and waited, said the club’s executive chef, Lenny Peaslee.

The storm peeled the roof back like the lid of a box, he said.

“We heard the rumble, rumble, then crash, boom, bang,” Peaslee said. “Insulation as far you can see. It nailed us ... the course is pretty much a mess. There’s trees down everywhere you look.”

“We were ... hiding behind the bar,” he added. “We had beer, anyway.”

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Video: Tornado damage

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