Mess left from tornado still being cleared

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2009 - 8:57 PM

South Minneapolis residents and businesses pushed to get rid of debris, and sized up scars that will remain.

Three days after a tornado briefly touched down in Minneapolis, Paul Christianson was still stopping customers outside the Electric Fetus on Saturday, telling them the 41-year-old music store would be closed for at least two more days because of the storm's damage.

"It'll be a shell of its former self" for awhile, said Christianson, a manager at the store, as he stood at the front entrance. Behind him, workers wearing breathing masks hauled debris from the building out into the bright sun, cleaning up damage to the store's roof and windows.

Up and down the neighborhoods that hug Interstate 35W just south of downtown, the scene Saturday was much the same: Scores of downed trees littered front lawns, blue tarps covered damaged roofs and telephone trucks moved from job to job.

The city's emergency help phone center, Minneapolis 3-1-1, was opened Saturday to field storm-related calls. But Matt Laible, a city spokesman, said no more than 20 percent of the 250 calls the center had received by early afternoon dealt with the storm's aftermath. Many callers, he said, simply wanted to know where to stack the storm's debris so city workers could haul it away.

Driving through the neighborhoods, the destruction was still apparent.

"[It] hit the house up there," said a sweaty Jon Bratt, describing the downed willow tree on Park Avenue that his tree company employees were now cutting up. "It was cracked right down the middle. ... It was about as old [and as] big a willow as you'll find in the city."

Joan Donaldson leaned on a chain-link fence next door, watching Bratt's crew and still surprised at the damage. "It just ... felt like a heavy rainstorm," she said.

Bratt said his Minneapolis company had been busy since the storm hit on Wednesday, but said the many foreclosed homes in these inner-city neighborhoods have complicated the cleanup. Some homes were in such disrepair that their garages had collapsed into the alley, making it difficult for crews to get through.

Six blocks farther south, Jerry Thompson had his own problems as he watched his employees remove three downed trees whose large branches surrounded a white home at E. 41st Street. Ninety percent of the home's roof was damaged, he said.

"I've been getting pounded," Thompson said of the workload left by the storm. Thompson, a field superintendent for Disaster Recovery Instantly, a storm cleanup company, had parked a small construction trailer in a church parking lot and unfurled a large banner that read simply, "Insurance claims."

"There are 5,000 people [who are] 'storm chasing,'" Thompson said. "That's what we want to be separated from."

His company, he explained, was attempting to distinguish itself from the fly-by-night repair companies that he said were pouring into the neighborhoods by opening up an on-site office.

At the Electric Fetus, Christianson said the storm's oddest moment came when he and others in the store could feel a sudden drop in the barometric pressure.

"There was a ton of pressure," he said. "People reported hearing their ears pop."

Clyde Casstevens, meanwhile, was one of a steady stream of customers who came to the store Saturday, only to find it closed. "I didn't know it hit this," said Casstevens, who said he came to pick up a Miles Davis compact disc he had ordered. "I hate it did."

Staff writer Abby Simons also contributed to this article. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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