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An overturned bus lies crumpled Thursday in front of County Stadium in Wadena. Kevin Cederstrom / Special to The Forum

Police, National Guard block entry to parts of Wadena; at least 3 killed, dozens injured in Minnesota tornadoes

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WADENA, Minn. -- Police and National Guard soldiers are blocking entry to tornado-damaged neighborhoods in Wadena as the northwestern Minnesota town prepares to start cleaning up from Thursday's devastation, according to The Associated Press

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At least three people were killed and dozens injured as tornadoes hit much of Minnesota.

In the northwest part of the state, an elderly woman was killed in Almora and a gas station owner was killed in Mentor. In southern Minnesota, one person was killed at a farm west of Albert Lea.

Officials in Wadena are meeting to plan the town's next step. The storms destroyed or damaged dozens homes, toppled power lines and left a big chunk of the town treeless.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty planned to tour storm-damaged areas later Friday.

Residents of Wadena and the surrounding communities are cleaning up after a number of tornadoes touched down Thursday afternoon.

"It's pretty much devastation at its finest," said Sgt. Tim Crawford of the Wadena Police Department.

The storm moved through northern Otter Tail County around 4:30 p.m., leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

Glass and debris littered the floor of Ashley Moen's windowless Jeep Thursday evening as she and her grandfather tried to get the vehicle started again after she was caught in a tornado just north of Deer Creek on Minnesota Highway 29.

"It got really windy, and then I saw stuff start flying," she said.

The 17-year-old Wadena High School senior tried to get out of the driver-side door of her vehicle, but the wind was too strong. When she pried open the door on the passenger side, she struck her head, and winds ripped her from the vehicle.

Moen was taken to the Wadena hospital and later released, but she was still shaken Thursday evening.

As the storm moved northeast into the city of Wadena, sirens were sounding before the tornadoes struck around 5 p.m.

The city was gearing up for a busy week with an all-school reunion. An estimated 2,000 were expected to attend.

Mark Gibson of Nevis was at the high school registering for the reunion when the storm hit.

There was a hollow sound, and then "all hell broke loose," he said.

A large piece of what was reported to be the Wadena Area Community Center was twisted over the school Thursday night.

The southwest area of town was the hardest hit, but parts of the northwest were also heavily damaged, Mayor Wayne Wolden said.

The storm had earlier struck Deer Creek, where Fire Chief Dan Hendershot was at home waiting for the emergency calls to start.

"We knew it was coming," Hendershot said.

Several homes and farms in rural Deer Creek were leveled to nothing but "black dirt," Hendershot said.

"When you go out and see the devastation, it's so overwhelming," he said.

Wadena and several of the surrounding communities were still without power Thursday night, and Lake Region Electric officials had told Hendershot that it could be a week before electricity was restored in some areas.

More than 100 people were displaced, and the Red Cross is assisting in finding them shelter.

At least 15 law enforcement agencies and 10 fire departments are assisting in the area.

For now, officials are asking that volunteers stay out of the area.

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