Hundreds of thousands lack power in Twin Cities; flood risk looms

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 22, 2013 - 8:02 AM

A lazy warm front spawned a series of storms that battered Minnesota with wind, hail and heavy rain. More storms are expected Saturday night.

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Summer arrived in Minnesota like a poke in the eye Friday, with storms delivering damaging wind, hail and heavy rains that continue to threaten large areas of the state and metro area with flash flooding.

The Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service indicated that during the weekend, 3 inches or more of additional rain could be expected over the metro area and northeast toward Duluth, where thousands of runners are expected to turn out Saturday for the annual Grandma’s Marathon.

The most widespread impact on Saturday for hundreds of thousands of people in and around the Twin Cities was the lack of electricity from power lines downed by strong winds and trees snapping wires. As of 7:15 a.m., nearly 280,000 Xcel Energy customers were without power in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in Minnesota, with the utility having crews spread out and working on restoring service.

Restoration for some customers could yet be several days away, Xcel said in a statement issued at 7:30 a.m. Since Friday morning, nearly a half-million customers have had their power interrupted at some point, with 214,000 or so of those now back online, the utility said.

Xcel said it has more than 1,000 workers in the field working on restoring power.

"This level of power outages by this succession of storms is one of the highest we've ever faced," said utility President and CEO Dave Sparby. "We are calling on utilities from throughout the Midwest to send crews and support staff to help us restore power to all of our customers as quickly as possible."

Friday's powerless tally peaked at about 150,000 in the morning and dipped below 20,000 by evening, but that was before the second of two rounds of strong storms came barreling through.

Sheets of rain driven by winds up to 60 miles per hour ripped through the Twin Cities about 8 p.m. Friday, echoing storms that stomped across the state before dawn Friday, toppling trees and power lines and dumping 6 inches or more of rain across central Minnesota.

The stormy reprise flooded streets and grassy areas, limited visibility and knocked out power just as utility crews were restoring it following the earlier assault. A National Weather Service spotter in Maple Plain, in the west metro, measured 2.2 inches of rain in 30 minutes just before 8 p.m. Forecasters predicted more storms through the weekend.

Outside of the metro area, Morris, in western Minnesota, saw street flooding Friday night and power lines were knocked down in Stearns County.

Even before the Friday night storms, rivers across western Minnesota were rising fast. The Long Prairie River was expected to rise nearly 3 feet and cause minor flooding in Todd County on Saturday, while the much larger Red River at Fargo was predicted to rise 8 feet by Wednesday, but not cause significant problems.

The Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service indicated that during the weekend, 3 inches or more of additional rain could be expected over the metro area and northeast toward Duluth, where thousands of runners are expected to turn out Saturday for the annual Grandma’s Marathon.

Early Friday storms

Breezy Point near Brainerd received 7.75 inches before dawn Friday and locations from Morris to Hinckley reported 4 to 6 inches in about six hours. Winds at Morris were clocked at 85 miles per hour.

St. Cloud sustained widespread damage, with hundreds of trees toppled. The area around St. Cloud State University was particularly hard hit.

About 19,000 Twin Cities Xcel Energy customers were still without power Friday evening, down from 150,000 Friday morning.

“The storm caused significant damage to our electric system, including a number of downed poles and power lines,” Xcel said in a statement. “Additional crews from North and South Dakota and other utilities have been coordinated to assist with restoration efforts.”

Lightning was to blame for a fire that significantly damaged a home in Minnetonka. Firefighters from Minnetonka and five neighboring departments responded to the blaze in the 2700 block of Ashborne Road that was reported about 2:30 a.m. Friday.

The homeowner woke up to a lightning strike nearby, as did a neighbor. A neighbor saw flames coming from the home and called for help. The neighbor also helped a woman and her dog get out of the burning house without injury, said Fire Chief Brent Weldon.

The roof collapsed and the house sustained “significant damage,” Weldon said. No firefighters were injured, he said.

Two homes in Eden Prairie also drew bolts of lightning shortly after 4 a.m., city officials said. One of them was half of a duplex that caught fire in the 10000 block of Leaping Deer Lane and was deemed a total loss, said city spokeswoman Katie Bengtson. The adjoining residence was unscathed.

A few minutes later, firefighters responded to lightning hitting a home on Riverview Road, Bengtson added. But by the time crews arrived, the homeowner had already doused the flames, which caused only minimal damage.

In the 4300 block of Chowen Avenue N. in Minneapolis, a massive tree crashed through the roof of the Nelsen home. John Nelsen, 45, was listening to the weather alerts when he felt the house shake at 3:45 a.m. He found the huge maple from his front lawn in the middle of the living room. His mother, Ann Nelsen, 75, slept through the crash.

Next-door neighbor Chris Larsen, 53, heard the crash and knew exactly what it was. A tree in his yard had fallen in a storm last year. But this time was a close call. The Nelsens’ tree fell just feet from his bedroom.

“I was sleeping right there, so if that had been another 15 feet, I don’t think I would have been having too good of a day,” Larsen said.

A fireman’s view

On-call Robbinsdale firefighter Chris Russell, 40, was clearing the debris on his street with his children and his neighbors after spending five hours responding to calls with city crews.

“We were driving from end to end for calls all over,” he said. “North, south, east and west were all about the same: lots of limbs down, a few trees down.”

A community clinic, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center in north Minneapolis, called off appointments throughout the morning because of a lack of electricity, said Hennepin County spokeswoman Maria Elena Baca. The clinic’s generator kicked in and was preserving vaccines and other medication, Baca added.

Flash flooding on southbound I-35W just south of downtown Minneapolis may have led to an accident in which a vehicle slid under a tanker truck just after 5 a.m.

In Washington County, the sheriff’s office says it responded to several house fires and reports of trees down throughout the county. Damage was widespread, a dispatcher said.

 

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

 

Star Tribune staff writers Tim Harlow and Paul Walsh  contributed to this report.











 

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