Local News

Oklahoma tornado victims start new life in Onalaska

ONALASKA, Wis. - As tornado cleanup continues in Moore Okla., thousands of families are facing a long road ahead in the rebuilding process, but one family decided to leave Moore and start a new life in Onalaska, Wis.

Delaine Knudsen had just moved to Moore Okla., from a nearby city five weeks ago Friday for a new job and had hopes of a better life for her three kids.

She still has those same dreams now that the family is in Onalaska, even if she has to start from nothing and thousands of miles away from her home.

"It still doesn't seem real," said Knudsen. "We just moved there, and our lives were great."

Knudsen was still fixing up and painting her new house in Moore while her kids stayed with their grandpa two hours away.

"I had this gorgeous, four-bedroom house," said Knudsen. "It was perfect with three kids. It was great."


Knudsen said it was raining on Monday. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary -- that is, until a neighbor told her to take shelter in a nearby church.

"We were down in the wine cellar, and that's when apparently the tornado hit," said Knudsen. "When we came up and we walked outside, there was nothing there."

She lost everything that day -- her home, her clothes, priceless family keepsakes.

The hope of rebuilding her once-perfect world was looking grim.

"There was nothing to rebuild," said Knudsen. "There's nothing left from where my home was."

Hundreds of miles away, in Onalaska, Knudsen's mother, Kyara Tollan, couldn't reach her for what seemed like an eternity, until a phone call came several hours later.

"I said, ‘Just get in the car; get here, get here please,'" said Tollan. "‘I need you here, I need to hug you.'"

It was an offer Knudsen couldn't turn down.

"I don't want to ever have to go through that again," said Knudsen.

So she, her sister and their total of four kids piled into the car, driving all day and through the night to get to Onalaska.

"That car is a major blessing," said Knudsen.

They've only been in Onalaska for a few days, but so far, Knudsen's son, Rion Purdum, likes what he sees.

"I like that it's big and we have a lot of space," said Rion.

The family still has a long way to go before getting back on its feet, but they hope the clear Onalaska sky is a sign of good things to come.

"We start here," said Knudsen. "I'm trying to look for work and save money to get a house. This is our home now."

Knudsen said the family has received some help from the Salvation Army in La Crosse.

She hopes to start looking for a job next week.

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