Survivor seeks information from 1969 Outing tornado
Sue (Dugan) Moline was 17 years old back in the summer of 1969 when her family was on a two-week vacation on Lake Roosevelt in Outing. On the fourth day of the trip - Aug. 6, 1969 - Moline remembers water skiing on a warm, sunny day.
"I was excited to learn how to ski slalom," Moline recalled.
But she never had a chance. In fact, Moline would never water ski again as her life changed later that day.
The sky around Outing began to cloud up, and around 5 p.m. Moline's family from Bloomington, along with her extended family and friends who were staying at the cabins owned by Bethany Fellowship of Bloomington on the east side of the lake, became concerned about the weather.
A tornado had cut a path across northern Minnesota and intensified to a powerful category F4, with winds of more than 200 miles per hour, as it barrelled toward Outing.
"We had no warning," Moline said. "I was in the cabin, and I remember looking at the window that faced the lake when a neighbor came running in and said, 'A tornado is coming.'"
A few seconds later, the tornado picked up the one-level cabin and carried it into Lake Roosevelt. Moline was among the 17 people who took shelter inside the cabin, and were now in the lake.
"It lifted our cabin right off the foundation," she said. "It was like the rug was pulled out from under us and we were in a washing machine. I was under water and unable to breathe. I thought I was going to die. I was gasping for air when I surfaced in 5-foot waves about 300 feet from shore. I didn't see another person at first, but then people started popping up."
Moline eventually made it back to shore, but many others didn't.
Three members of Moline's family had drowned, including her 19-year old sister, her grandma and her 5-year-old cousin.
"A total of seven people that I knew had died," Moline said of the storm that killed a total of 15 people as it passed through northern Minnesota. "Other people that we knew from (Bethany Fellowship) were there that day, plus my two uncles' families were there. It was like a Dugan family reunion."
On Aug. 11, 1969, Moline and her family returned to Bloomington for a seven-casket funeral.
That tragic experience was something that Moline's family rarely talked about.
"We went home and didn't talk about it," she said. "I don't think any of us knew how to process it."
After decades of silence, Moline started the conversation in the past couple years.
"I realized we needed to talk about it," she said. "We never told our stories. And when I started bringing it up, I found out (the survivors) all want to talk about it. Today (victims) go through counseling, but we didn't do that back then.
"Last year I interviewed my younger cousin, and found out that he experienced survivor's remorse all his life. He was seven at that time, and his mom had told him the day before the tornado to 'keep an eye on his sister.' She was one of the victims."
Moline is leading an effort to interview survivors or first responders to document the details of the Outing tornado before the 50th anniversary arrives in August.
"About a year ago, I decided to interview all of the survivors that I knew and assemble as much of the story as I could," she said. "My family has really never talked about their individual experiences, other than to refer to it as 'the tornado.' I wanted to hear everyone's stories, and I started recording the interviews and doing research with the Cass County historical society, the Cass County sheriffs, the DNR and local newspapers. It has been a fascinating journey, and also therapeutic. We have many gaps (in memory), but certain things you never forget. I'm trying to collect details and talk about what happened."
Moline also wants to tell the story for younger family members, including her four married daughters and 13 grandchildren.
"I also want to share the story with family members who weren't there," Moline said. "I wanted to do this project while I still had my memory, and before any more survivors had died (five have since died)."
According to DNR records, the Outing tornado is among the fifth most deadly tornadoes in Minnesota. The top tornado tragedies include: Sauk Rapids (72 deaths in 1886), Fergus Falls (57 in 1919), Rochester (37 in 1883) and Tyler (36 in 1918).
Here is the public request that Moline is making to collect information from survivors and first responders:
REQUEST FOR INFORMATION:
Eyewitnesses wanted from the 1969 Outing tornado. A survivor of the F4 tornado that hit Roosevelt Lake in Outing, Minnesota, on August 6, 1969, is looking for eyewitnesses to that event. This August marks the 50th anniversary of that tornado that killed seven of her family members and friends at the Bethany Cabins on Roosevelt Lake, as well as many others. She would appreciate any photos of the actual tornado or damage afterward, or any eyewitness accounts or memories shared by family or community members. No detail remembered is too small to share. She can be contacted via email at email@example.com, or called at 952-237-3510.