Volunteers from the Midwest help in Chetek tornado clean up - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Volunteers from the Midwest help in Chetek tornado clean up


Barron County (WQOW) -- It will be some time before residents can return to Prairie Lake Estates in Chetek, after a deadly tornado passed through the area. But they're one step closer to home, thanks to the hard work of volunteers. 

Crowds of volunteers showed up to clean up Friday with one simple message to Prairie Lake residents: You don't have to go through this alone. 

"We are with you. We are here to help you if you need help. We are praying for you," volunteer Donelle Heilman told News 18. 

Heilman came all the way from Eagan, Minnesota to help with the clean up. She owns a cabin on a lake nearby and said she didn't think twice about making the almost two hour trip because she firmly believes in loving thy neighbor. 

"We're state neighbors, but we're also cabin neighbors." Heilman said. "We don't know these people, but we are praying for them and really are here for that just because we know they're going through so, so much." 

Mike Reich and his wife drove from River Falls to volunteer. He said they saw the devastation on the news and figured they needed to help.

Reich told News 18 they also pitched in to clean up after a tornado passed through Siren, Wisconsin more than a decade ago. But, he said even that didn't prepare him for the damage in Chetek. 

Volunteers pulled pretty much everything out of the rubble Friday. Many found old purses, clothing and family photos. One even recovered an urn and others found three kittens, hiding safely in a boat. 

"With the tragedy, comes light at the end of the tunnel," said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald. "And, the help has been unbelievable. It's been awesome." 

Sheriff Fitzgerald said it's been a crazy few days since Tuesday's tornado, like nothing he's ever experienced before. Though he doesn't have time to reflect on the chaos just yet because there's still plenty of work to be done. 

"Someday, I'll sit back and think about it, but for the next 72 hours we're going to get people's [homes] cleaned up," Fitzgerald said. "That's our goal across Barron County." 

He told News 18 more than 400 people registered to volunteer on Friday, but they're hoping even more people show up to help over the weekend.

RELATED LINK: HOW TO HELP: Recovery efforts underway in Barron, Rusk counties after tornado damage

Volunteers will be accepted from 8 a.m.until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the Volunteer Reception Center at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Cameron. 

"It's a tough job, but all you have to do is pick up stuff," volunteer Mike Reich said, "So, we could use more help!" 

Anyone in Barron County who needs help clearing storm debris from their yard should call 211 for assistance. 

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