Year in Review staff picks: Bryon Graff - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Year in Review staff picks: Bryon Graff

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I spent the afternoon hours of Sunday, April 10th at home with my family.  I helped my sons finish a woodworking project.  My daughter was coloring the driveway with her chalk.  As the day moved forward, an eerie look came across the skies of North Central Wisconsin.  That was just the beginning of what I'd call one of the biggest stories of 2011.

As reports started to come in of storms sweeping across our area, I headed to the tv station.  Joining my fellow reporters, we created a plan for covering the unfolding situation.

The community of Merrill was one of many across our state hit hard by a tornado.  During my 9+ years working at WAOW-TV I've gotten to know many people in Merrill.  I consider some of them to be good friends.  When video and pictures began to filter into our newsroom, it looked like the area was devastated.  I immediately thought of those people and what was happening there.

Within a week after the tornado hit, I personally saw for the first time what the damage looked like.  Homes were ripped apart, while trees were either uprooted or cut in half.  Personal belongings were scattered everywhere.  We found a family who allowed our TV9 cameras into their home.  They told me where they were as the tornado roared through in just a matter of seconds.  Their front door was gone.  Part of the roof was missing.  The house across the street looked ok.  But I was told it actually rotated on its foundation and would have to be torn down.  Inside the basement I saw where the family had huddled.  Tree branches were lying on the floor.  A shed was propped up by trees in the backyard.  Thing is, the family didn't own a shed.

The thing that impressed me was how good the family's spirits were.  People in the community had dropped by with food, water and, most importantly, a helping hand.  I know it sounds like a cliche to stay the community came together.  But it really did!  The homeowners told me people had been working on their property all day.  They were people the family had never met before.

TV9 reporters made quite a few trips to Merrill after that.  I returned with Melissa Langbehn to tape a special that was produced by Anna Carrera.  Months later, people are still rebuilding their homes.  I've spoken to my friends in that area.  They feel blessed that the tornado took the path it did.  If it was just a few miles to the east it would've gone straight through the heart of the community.  They found a silver lining and they're working to rebuild what they once had.

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