Oakfield, WI residents remember EF-5 tornado that struck in '96

OAKFIELD, Wis. (WITI) -- The tornado that devastated Moore, OK on Monday, May 20th brought back memories for residents of Oakfield, Wisconsin. On July 18th, 1996, the town of just over 1,000 was hit by an EF-5 tornado that left 17 injured.

"You never want anybody to go through what you went through. Never," Oakfield resident Barbara Rhode said.

Today, there is little sign left of the destruction left in the tornado's wake. The violent tornado developed outside of town and moved southeastward across Wisconsin taking direct aim at Oakfield. Damage estimates totaled over $40 million as 47 of 327 homes were destroyed. 56 homes as well as numerous businesses and churches suffered heavy damage.

At the Oakfield library, the damage is archived in pictures.

Joanne Tetzlaff's home required $40,000 in repairs.

"The windows were kind of sucked out of the basement. We had an eyebeam from the canning factory, which is down the hill from us, come through our front window.  Missed my grand piano about that much," Tetzlaff said.

St. Luke's Lutheran Church & School in Oakfield was left beyond repair, but was rebuilt in just over a year with help from donations that came in from around the world.

Perhaps the most publicized image from the tornado is a picture of Barbara Rhode's house.

"We look out the back door and there is just this huge funnel coming through our backyard," Rhode remembered.

Rhode told FOX6 News she huddled in the basement with her husband.

'Everything is cracking and shattering. My husband was praying and I knew we would be okay," Rhode said.

A few years later, the Rhodes and their neighbors rebuilt their homes. They have moved on since the tragedy, but on Tuesday, they paused to think of those dealing with the aftermath of an EF-5 tornado in Oklahoma.

"You learn very quickly you don`t need things, because they`re gone.  And that`s not what`s important," Rhode said.

Several of those who survived the Oakfield tornado say they will be among the first to donate to victims in Oklahoma.

CLICK HERE for additional coverage of the Moore, OK tornado via FOX6Now.com.