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Community lends a hand to tornado victims

RICHVILLE, Minn. -- The tornado damage was barely done when Loerzel yard was filled with neighbors, friends and almost the entire population of Richville. Everyone offered to hep the family gather cattle, survey damage and create a make-shift plan.

"A lot of people from town were trying to pull the cement off the cattle," Denise Loerzel said. "It was just wonderful that a community would pull together so much to help us. It's like people were coming out of the woodwork. You see faces from town you didn't know who they were, but they were out here helping."

Their original dairy herd numbered 60, but they now had 31 cows that needed to be milked. Rich Loerzel turned to Donny Honer for help.

"Fourteen years ago he ran into something similar," Rich said. "His barn burned down. So when we made the call asking if they could take our cows, they didn't hesitate. He said, 'bring them over, and we'll find somehow to make room.'"

The offer is "above and beyond the call of duty," Denise said.

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Cleaning continued for most of the week with many coming to the farm of their own accord to help. Brian and George Fresonke of Perham, owners of OK Tire, and Curt Osterfeld brought three loader trucks with aerial scoops to help move debris. They stayed from 6 Sunday night until 1 in the morning, returned at 5:45 a.m. and worked until 10 Monday night.

The couple is working with insurance agents and assessors. Part of their assessment includes Rich's 35 antique John Deere tractors. All are fixable, but some will need extensive work, Rich said.

"Someone said you have to be a millionaire after all of this," Rich said. "You know you will be covered for your losses, but that's about it -- I'm still out of a job."

The tornado lifted the house and moved it slightly from the foundation, they said. Doors don't shut right and, from the outside, walls are bulging. They're working with home builders to determine if the house can be fixed.

The couple debated quitting farming, but they said they like the lifestyle and working with cattle. Rich said he plans to rebuild the barn for 30 cows and with more automation.

A fund was set up at their bank, United Community Bank in Perham, to help the couple. Local churches and organizations are planning clean up events for the couple and another neighbor whose fields contain debris.

The storm and destruction were tragedies, but have brought opportunities, Rich said.

"I just can't get over all the damage but through all that has happened, and (though) it's a lot of work to go through in the next weeks and months ahead, I am actually excited about it," he said. "It will be a definite and different change of lifestyle, but it's like a fresh start. We are just happy to be alive."

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