Minnesotans head east to help with Sandy

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 30, 2012 - 9:33 PM

Superstorm Sandy pushed right up to Minnesota's doorstep Tuesday, with north winds roaring down Lake Michigan and eastern Wisconsin. But that's about as far west as the massive storm is expected to go.

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Strong waves crash against the Lake Michigan waterfront at the 31st Street Beach on the south side of Chicago on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. Strong winds from the outer edge of superstorm Sandy are creating near-record high waves on Lake Michigan.

Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press - Ap

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Superstorm Sandy pushed right up to Minnesota's doorstep Tuesday, with north winds roaring down Lake Michigan and eastern Wisconsin. But that's about as far west as the massive storm is expected to go.

Meanwhile, Minnesotans have headed east to help communities deal with the wreckage:

Red Cross

Thirteen Minnesotans from the American Red Cross, 11 of them volunteers, are expected to be serving food, working in shelters or providing other help in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania by Wednesday evening, said spokeswoman Lynette Nyman. Some have been on the job since last week, helping in advance of Sandy's landfall.

Emergency responders

Five Minnesota emergency co-ordinators, from the Excelsior fire department, Hennepin County, Allina Health and the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management division, moved Tuesday from a command center outside Boston to another post in Albany, N.Y. They'd been in Boston for several days but were being moved to help with more severe needs closer to where Sandy tore westward from the Atlantic.

They are part of a national mutual aid system known as the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).

Kim Ketterhagen, state EMAC coordinator, noted that Minnesota sent 480 people to New Orleans in 2005 under EMAC after Hurricane Katrina struck.

"That speaks to how far we've come since Katrina, and how much better prepared we are," Ketterhagen said, referring to the need for fewer people.

Xcel Energy

Xcel Energy is sending line-repair crews and other workers, some from Minnesota, to assist eastern utilities.

Thirty Minnesota linemen and eight from Wisconsin, along with six managers, safety consultants and fleet mechanics, volunteered to travel to West Virginia to help restore power to customers of American Electric Power Co., Xcel said.

Last summer, Xcel crews helped restore power for American Electric in 100-plus degree temperatures, said Judy Poferl, president and CEO of Xcel's Minnesota region. "Now it appears that our crews will be dealing with 2-4 feet of snow and heavy damage -- in other words, conditions our crews are well acquainted with," she said.

Counting her blessings

The mother of the Minnesota sailor rescued from the sinking HMS Bounty off the coast of North Carolina said her son was extremely lucky.

"If this had happened 20 years ago, he wouldn't have gotten out of there," said Jo Svendsen of Nisswa, Minn., whose son, John, was one of 14 crew members rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. One died and the ship's captain remained missing Tuesday.

Jo Svendsen said GPS emergency tracking devices, the emergency wet suits the crew wore, a sheltered raft and the Coast Guard's helicopter and rescue equipment combined to save most of the sailors. A video of the rescue is at www.startribune.com/a1854

John Svendson broke a hand and some ribs. He was treated and released from an Elizabeth City, N.C., hospital Monday.

Jo Svendson said he didn't want to talk to the media until his pain medication and other effects of the ordeal wear off.

Waves in Chicago, on Superior

Although Sandy sent 20-foot waves crashing down on Chicago's lakefront, and Marquette, Mich., was pounded by 14-footers from Lake Superior, her reach didn't extend to Duluth. The surf there was normal for this time of year, said Steve Colman, director of the Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

"They're not spectacular waves -- well, they're small to moderate waves, but it'll be good for the beginner and intermediate surfers I'm teaching," said Randy Carlson, coordinator of kayak, canoe and kiting for the Recreational and Outdoor Sports Program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The surfing season on the lake generally runs October to April, and by mid-winter the neoprene-clad surfers must carefully judge waves and evade ice, boulders and granite shelves that line much of the shore.

On Sandy's good side

The Twin Cities will see several more days of sunny skies with highs in the 40s as Sandy veers north. The storm has been, in effect, a wall blocking weather systems from moving in their customary west-to-east course across the country, noted Twin Cities National Weather Service forecaster Tony Zaleski.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

Staff writers Dave Shaffer and Warren Wolfe contributed to this article.

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