Survivor of May 30, 2022, tornado that hit Forada, Maple Lake recounts harrowing day

After a year of dealing with insurance, Leah Chalmers and her husband, John, are finally rebuilding what they call their "forever home" to replace the cabin that was hit by the tornado.

Storm 2022.jpg
A shed was blown into a cabin on Maple Lake owned by Leah and John Chalmers during a tornado that struck the area on May 30, 2022.
Contributed photo / Leah Chalmers

FORADA — As Leah and John Chalmers are preparing to build their “forever home” on Maple Lake near Forada, they're adamant about one thing – it has to include a basement.

The couple, who currently live with their son in the house he just purchased from them near Osakis, are building their home on the site where their cabin used to sit.

John Leah cabin.jpg
Leah and John Chalmers are pictured inside their cabin on Maple Lake that was hit by the May 30, 2022, tornado.
Contributed photo

That cabin, along with a cabin just a few houses down that's been in the Chalmers family for more than 50 years, were struck by the tornado that hit the Maple Lake/Forada area on May 30, 2022.

When the tornado hit, the Chalmers didn’t have a basement to run down into. But now in their new home, they will.

“We are going to be blessed with a basement. We will now have a storm shelter. Amen, praise Jesus!” said Leah.


That fateful day

Up until a few years ago, John and Leah owned both cabins, the one that has been in the family for years and the one they purchased a few years back. The family cabin is now owned by John’s sister and her husband, Angelique and Mark Beaupres. Both couples had been at their cabins over Memorial weekend in 2022. On that Monday, May 30, the four were keeping an eye on the weather as the sky kept getting darker and darker.

“We were going to grab a quick bite to eat and then they were going to hit the road,” said Leah, noting that the Beaupres live in Big Lake. “It (the weather) turned serious and so they decided to grab their food and hit the road.”

When they got into Alexandria, near the Holiday Inn, Angelique called Leah, stating it had gotten worse and asked if they should turn around and head back or should they keep going.

Shed Removal 2022.jpg
A Bobcat was used to help remove a shed that had blown into a cabin on Maple Lake owned by Leah and John Chalmers. The shed blew into the cabin during the May 30, 2022, tornado.
Contributed photo / Leah Chalmers

“I told her to ‘punch it, Ethel,’ and get on the interstate and head east,” said Leah, noting that the couple was fortunate enough to escape.

Leah said her and John’s cabin is on the east side of Maple Lake so they kept watching the west side as history indicated storms usually come from the west.

They were standing in their three-season porch when Leah said it got eerily quiet and still. All of sudden, however, the wind picked up and then a tool shed that also sits on the property was thrown into their house from the street side – not at all what they were expecting.

“We had no clue that was going to happen,” said Leah. “We just kept expecting it from the west and it came from the southeast.”

A total of 14 tornadoes were confirmed in Minnesota as of June 4.

The "it" she was talking about ended up being a tornado. As the couple didn’t have a basement or even a bathtub they could sit in, which is a reportedly safe place to be when a tornado hits, they were standing in what she described as a teeny, tiny hallway in the middle of the house.


“When our shed was thrown into our house, the bedroom door slammed shut, a window shattered and because of the wind, blew glass and everything else all around,” she recalled. “People have asked us how loud it was and honestly, my husband says he doesn’t know because I was screaming so loud. I was praying to Jesus to not let us end up in the middle of Maple Lake.”

Shoreline 2022 Beaupres.jpg
The shoreline along Maple Lake near Forada was destroyed after a tornado ripped through the area on May 30, 2022.
Contributed photo / Leah Chalmers

Leah remembers John grabbing her shoulders, trying to call her down, telling her to sit down because she was hyperventilating. She doesn’t remember how long it lasted, but said that John thought it was maybe a minute. The longest minute of her life, she said. When it was all over, she said they couldn’t really see out of the house because of all the insulation on the windows. She said it looked like the windows had been hit by a snowstorm.

When they made it outside, they saw what had happened. Their boat, boat lift, water toys, all of it, was gone. Most of their dock, however, was still there.

A garage that the couple had just built on the property three years ago was also damaged – a wall was gone and the door was pushed out like a “pregnant woman,” said Leah.

Fischbach said there is a long road ahead but that it was beautiful to see the way the community has come together.

The Beaupres’ cabin was also destroyed. Windows were blown out. There were holes in the roof and the siding. The foundation was twisted. The damage done to that cabin was enough where Leah said the insurance company deemed it a total loss and two weeks later they received a check in the mail.

“Ours was not so lucky and it has been a nightmare,” she said.

Battling with insurance

It’s been nearly a year and John and Leah are finally starting to build their forever home on Maple Lake. And if everything had gone right with their insurance company, Leah said they would be building their dream home and not building a home on a budget.

The couple lived above the store and have a cabin right door. Both received extensive damage from the May 12, 2022 tornado that hit Douglas County.

When it comes to insurance, Leah said people need to be their own advocate, but in doing so, it kind of becomes a full-time job.


“My heart hurts for people older than John and I who’ve had to deal with this,” she said. “We’ve been battling with our adjuster over pretty much everything. I won’t list names because it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it has not been fun.”

Leah said she has been telling everyone she knows and who will listen to make sure your insurance has GRV – guaranteed replacement value. She said it is something that is in the fine print that agents don’t typically discuss.

“If we would have had that, we would’ve been whistling Dixie,” she said.

Front1 8562.jpg
Twisted trees, dented metal and debris are scattered near a home on South Maple Lake Road SE after a tornado moved through the Forada area on Monday, May 30, 2022.
Echo Press file photo

Instead of getting the full value of their cabin, Leah said they didn’t even get half of their house's value. She said it wasn’t deemed a total loss because there wasn’t enough damage according to the adjuster.

For the past year, it has been one thing after another for the couple when it comes to battling with the insurance company. At one point, Leah said the adjuster told them it was a game of give and take to which her husband replied, “This isn’t a game to us. It’s our livelihood.”

A few months ago, John and Leah finally settled with their insurance company and have begun the process of building their home, a home that definitely includes a basement — no matter if the insurance company covered it or not.

“We are building a basement for sure,” she said. “I would’ve dug to China if I had to because I can’t be without a basement ever again.”

It's the second tornado for Douglas County, Minnesota in 18 days


Living their best life

Leah said their story isn’t unique or special and that many others along the lake have been dealing with the same kind of issues. She said they were fortunate enough after the tornado to still enjoy the rest of the summer as best they could.

The cabin was still standing, for the most part, so they boarded up the windows, ripped up the carpet and made do.

“We didn’t have the boats or the toys, but we had floaties and lived the best life we could on our floaties,” she said. “It wasn’t a typical summer, but we still got to use the lake and spent the summer floating. All of us along the lake spent the summer floating.”

Tornado rips through homes, buildings on Memorial Day Monday.

As for this summer, Leah said the dock and lift are in the lake and they were able to purchase a new-to-them boat so things are looking up.

Although remnants of the tornado, such as shingles or other particles, can still be found floating in the lake, Leah said she believes the lake isn't contaminated and people can still fish and swim and boat.

State Rep. Mary Franson, right, talks with Douglas County Chairperson Tim Kalina, while touring some of the hardest hit areas along Forada Beach Road. Forada, as well as other parts of Douglas County, including the Nelson and Osakis areas, were hit hard by an EF-2 tornado on May 30, 2022.
Echo Press file photo

“We have not heard any negative reports that the lake is contaminated,” she said. “And my husband, the fish farmer, says the fish are fine. We see boats out there fishing all the time now. It’s still a beautiful lake.”

Leah said people are working hard at rebuilding and coming back after the storm. She said the city of Forada has been great and so many people in the community and surrounding communities have been so helpful and supportive.

“It would’ve been an even bigger nightmare if Forada wasn’t such a great place to be,” said Leah. “John and I are looking forward to making Forada our permanent address. We are leaving one great community (Osakis) and going to another great community.”


A total of 14 tornadoes were confirmed in Minnesota as of June 4.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
What To Read Next
Get Local