Radio personality Terri Traen spent Friday night tending to apple trees at the family-owned LuceLine Orchard near Watertown. By Saturday morning, high winds, heavy rain and a tornado ripped nearly half of the orchard’s meticulously trimmed apple trees out by the roots.
“Financially, it’s crushing,” said Traen, who opened the farm with her husband in 2012 and does not have crop insurance. “It’s like we’re starting all over.”
More than 100 volunteers, some of whom were strangers, came out to help clear the land with chain saws Saturday afternoon. It was a scene repeated across the Twin Cities following the storm that whipped through late Friday night and early Saturday morning, toppling trees and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of people in the metro.
Some of the most serious damage was in Carver County near Watertown, where the National Weather Service confirmed an EF1 tornado with winds of up to 105 miles per hour touched down around midnight. But the damage was widespread, with wind gusts of up to 70 mph reported in cities across the metro, from Golden Valley to Lakeville to St. Paul.
Xcel Energy said the storm initially left 225,000 customers in Minnesota and Wisconsin without power. As of 4:30 p.m. Sunday, 11,000 customers in the metro area were still waiting for service to be restored. Hundreds of crews from five states were assisting with the restoration efforts.
Xcel Energy said they expect to have power restored to 97 percent of those 11,000 customers by Sunday evening.
Path of destruction
The tornado touched down west-southwest of Watertown and cut a 4-mile path across the county, according to the National Weather Service.
The Carver County Sheriff’s Office said there was damage across Hollywood and Watertown townships north of Hwy. 7, including structural damage, downed trees and power lines, and roads blocked with debris. But emergency personnel who searched the area determined that no one was injured, the sheriff’s office said.
Benjamin and Patty Falk, of Hollywood Township, were hit particularly hard by the storm, which obliterated their barn and two of the farm’s metal soybean storage bins. Their home also suffered severe damage.
Patty Falk described feeling like a deer in headlights as she ushered her family into the basement as pink insulation flew around their heads. “I think you go into a mental place that is not your norm [during a crisis],” she said.
Watertown officials canceled the second day of the town’s annual Rails to Trails festival because of destruction wrought by the storm. The entire town of just over 4,000 people was without power Saturday morning and several power lines had fallen and were humming and shaking in the street, Mayor Steve Washburn said.
“We’re trying to do the best that we possibly can with the situation,” he said, noting that the roofs were torn off dugouts at the local baseball fields. “Everyone pitched in, helped out their neighbors and it makes you feel proud of your community to see people coming together.”
Officials rescheduled the annual fireworks display for Sunday at 10:30 p.m.
Storm cleanup continued Saturday around the Twin Cities as residents assessed the damage in their neighborhoods.
In Hennepin County, crews started working at 1:30 a.m. Saturday to remove downed trees and other debris from roads.
Eric Waage, Hennepin County’s emergency management director, said crews would likely remain out working most of Saturday just to remove trees downed across the county.
“[We found] a ton of stuff that had been blown all over. It was garbage day in some areas, so garbage was spread all over and a trampoline was in the road in Minnetrista,” said Waage, who added that some county roads were also blocked by fallen trees.
He said that despite the downed trees and power lines, there was little structural damage found in Hennepin County.
Trees were also reported down in the Credit River township area in Scott County and in Hugo in Washington County.
Farther south, officials in Mankato also reported downed trees and damage to a city park.
Gusts from the tornado that touched down in Carver County flattened several of LuceLine Orchard’s smaller sheds and its gazebo, Traen said, but the handful of larger farm animals managed to survive.
The family still plans to open for the apple season this fall, albeit with a smaller crop. Uprooted trees will be sold as applewood for smoking meats, but thousands of unripe fruits will have to be pitched.
The orchard was recently approved to hold weddings and is booked for its first large event in mid-August for a class reunion.
“Thank God we didn’t have a wedding today, because the tent would no longer be there,” said Traen’s daughter, Abby Pawelk.
“It’s amazing what can happen in only a few minutes,” Traen said. “But this is truly a place of love and we’re going to keep going.”
Staff writers Casey Common, Stephen Montemayor and Randy Salas contributed to this report.