KSTP Investigation Leads to Increased Storm Shelter Enforcement in Minnesota

May 16, 2018 10:21 PM

When a tornado touched down in Chetek, Wisconsin one year ago, the Prairie Lake Estates mobile home park did not have a storm shelter.

Which meant the people there had nowhere to hide.


One person died and dozens of others were injured.

Here in Minnesota, state law requires either a storm shelter or an evacuation plan at mobile home parks.

But a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation last summer found the law is not taken seriously and rarely enforced.

RELATED: Nowhere to Hide: Despite State Law, Mobile Home Residents Often Left Unprotected

Since that investigation, though, there appears to be progress when it comes to inspections and enforcement in the state.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found nearly 30 parks statewide have come into compliance since our investigation. The Minnesota Department of Health has taken disciplinary action against another six.

"We are following up now," said Zach Hansen, the Environmental Health Director for Ramsey County, where inspectors have taken it a step further.

"Well, to be honest, your coverage last year got us thinking about storm shelters," he said. "And when we inspected in the fall wasn't the best time to go."

The county now does full inspections in the fall and spot inspections in the spring, ahead of the storm season.

RELATED: Chetek Looks Back 1 Year After Tornado

But in Wisconsin, where the deadly tornado hit a year ago, there remains no law on the books to protect people in mobile home parks.

And it doesn't look like there will be anytime soon.

"One state is always going to be ahead of others, and right now it's Minnesota that probably has one of the strongest protections for people who live in mobile home parks," Wisconsin State Sen. Janet Bewley said.

She said there was talk about a law like Minnesota's following the tornado in Chetek. But nothing more.

KSTP Weather

Bewley believes the political will just isn't there to pass a law that may put a financial burden on cash-strapped mobile home parks.

She hopes during the next legislative session, legislation that would at least require evacuation plans at parks can be passed.

"We have to do something," she said. "We can't put people through this and tell them that this is OK - that we are going to let you feel worried and insecure every spring as tornado season comes around."

KSTP Investigative

While politics may get in the way of any mandate in Wisconsin, local officials in Chetek managed to find a different approach: a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"As soon as the grant gets approved, we have the plans made," Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said.

"We'll find the builders to build it."

Which means the site of tragedy one year ago may be the home to a new storm shelter as early as this year.


Ryan Raiche

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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