ONE YEAR LATER: Chetek, Wisconsin community reflects on deadly tornado

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The community of Chetek, Wisconsin gathered in remembrance Wednesday for the one year anniversary of the deadly tornado that tore through homes and changed lives forever.

Living within the scarred community and with his own scars from being injured exactly a year ago, Mike Cantor has been grateful to be back home since Christmas. He’s one of about 20 residents to move back to Prairie Lake Estates out of the total 50 mobile homes hit by the tornado

“Now I’m looking forward to landscaping and getting the fence up so the cats can play,” said Cantor. 

Cantor was inside his previous trailer when it was picked up and thrown at least 30 feet. The EF-3 tornado was the longest on the ground tornado ever recorded in Wisconsin. In Barron County alone, more than 150 properties topped $10 million in damages. 

“I fought through the house thinking, ‘Am I dead or alive?’” said Cantor.

While vacant lot after vacant lot remain, the community continues to bounce back. So much so, the long-term recovery fund, which topped a million dollars, is now being closed out

“All the families displaced are in long-term housing for their future,” said Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald. “Everyone is moving forward in their lives and that's another reason to have this.”

Observing the tornado’s anniversary, Sheriff Fitzgerald paused for a moment of silence to remember Eric Gavin who was killed in the tornado and Donald Hajek who died later clearing debris. Survivors also came together to thank one another and the first responders.

“I’m looking around trying to find faces of the people who helped us,” said Bonnie Larson, whose cabin was damaged by tornado.

Property owners also lined up for free flowering crab trees as a reminder of what they have all been through and the community growth that is still to come. 

“I’m excited to get more building, more landscaping, a little bit of beauty goes a long way,” said Cantor.

Hopes to build a storm shelter still remain. The sheriff says they are waiting to see if a grant from FEMA will come through.