Feeling there were too many inaccuracies about the F-5 tornado that hit Tracy almost 44 years ago, Scott Thoma decided to dig for the truth.
Thoma, a Tracy native, recently published the book "Out of the Blue," about the tornado that struck Tracy on June 13, 1968 and killed nine people. His book focuses on the story of two sisters, Pam Haugen and Linda (Haugen) Torden.
The reason he wrote the sisters' story was that he knew the younger sister, Pam, as she was just a year younger than him. After the tornado hit that June day, everybody had a different story, Thoma said.
"I always wanted to know which one of these was right," he said.
Thoma said his mother had the makings of a book on the tornado.
"My mom started to do it when she was alive," he said. He said that a neighbor of his parents' was a nurse at the hospital. "The neighbor helped my dad and the neighbor's husband to help pull the dead people out."
His mother had a box full of interviews and notes and information. Thoma said he never thought about that box until his father died five years ago, and he was helping to clean out the house.
As a reporter with more than 30 years of experience, Thoma wanted to get the real story about that day, especially what happened to the Haugen sisters.
"The stories of the Tracy tornado were inaccurate, embellished," Thoma said. "Everyone told a different story."
So he tracked down the sisters. Haugen, the younger sister, lives in Currie, while the older sister, Torden, lives in Sauk Centre.
"All of the tracking took longer than (writing) the book," Thoma said. He said the total time he spent on the book was nine months.
Thoma said that Linda was 20 years old and had just gotten married. Her husband was at basic training, and the two were going to adopt a 2-year-old child. Linda was taking care of the child at the time when the tornado struck, Pam, who was 8 years old, was visiting her sister.
It was tough to get the real stories, Thoma said, as survivors were getting older.
"Even the littlest thing I asked, I'd get five variations of the story," Thoma said.
Thoma also talked with the National Weather Service about that fateful day.
"They gave me all their notes," Thoma said.
As for his own experience with the first recorded F-5 tornado in Minnesota, Thoma said "I can remember it like it was yesterday, and I was only nine."
Thoma said it hailed all day and he remembered running outside, picking up hail in buckets.
"I was one who couldn't sit still, I was always on the go," Thoma said.
Thoma said his family only lived half a block from the elementary school, which was demolished in the tornado.
"There were bricks everywhere," Thoma said. He said his father took his hand. "I watched him pull that dead man out."
Thoma includes a section in his book about the nine who died in the tornado.
"Not one of them were in the basement," Thoma said. Thoma said there's a section in his book, "Tornado Myths and Facts," in which he was granted permission to use from a company called Tornado Project.
"It explains things like which corner of the basement is the safest and things like that," he said.
Thoma recently had a book signing at the Wheels Across the Prairie museum in Tracy. He plans to be at the Walnut Grove Family Festival July 7, 14 and 21. His book is available through his website at www.thomabooks.com.