STOUGHTON, Wis. (AP) – The sky “just exploded” as a tornado damaged or destroyed dozens of homes, killing one man, a witness said.

Fifteen homes were leveled Thursday and 30 others had moderate to severe damage in the town of 12,500 near Madison in south-central Wisconsin, state emergency management spokeswoman Lori Getter said. The line of storms also caused extensive damage in the village of Viola, in the southwestern part of the state.

The victim was identified as a 54-year-old man whose home near Stoughton collapsed.

At least eight people were injured in and around Stoughton and in Viola, Getter said.

“There’s houses half gone. All the trees in town are gone,” said Bill Bender, owner of the Viola Quick Stop. “There was stuff flying by the building, like big chunks.”

Gov. Jim Doyle declared a state of emergency Friday in Dane and Richland counties, the two hardest hit by Thursday’s storms.

The order directs state agencies to help local governments in cleaning up.

The National Weather Service said it is investigating reports of 18 possible tornadoes around the state.

Stoughton Mayor Helen Johnson said that when the twister struck, emergency personnel were still working to clean up after a fire that gutted a local church and adjoining school Wednesday.

“There’s a lot of sad people, but we’re going to pull together,” she said.

A witness captured the tornado on his camera phone.

“The sky just exploded. It was debris everywhere,” said David Murray, 43. “When it went across the road and it hit all the houses over there … it was something you can’t explain.”

Murray said he was going from Stoughton to his home nearby “and, bam, it was there, and it grew and it grew.” He and others helped tend to the injured.

Harold O. Orlofske, 54, apparently died of injuries sustained during the collapse of his home in Pleasant Springs north of Stoughton, Dane County Coroner John Stanley said.

Storm debris traveled eastward in clouds, depositing papers, shingles and other materials in the Milwaukee area, some 60 miles from Stoughton.

Shelters were set up at Stoughton, Viola and Spring Green for those left homeless by the storms. Getter said leaking natural gas caused the evacuation of about 200 Stoughton residents.

Plans were under way for a pass system to let residents return to their homes once it is safe.

Lenny Peaslee, executive chef at the Stoughton Country Club, said the twister tore the roof off as about 40 people took refuge in the basement.

“We were … hiding behind the bar,” he said. “We had beer, anyway.”

Associated Press writer James Carlson in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

AP-ES-08-19-05 1220EDT

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