Brianna Sucik is scrambling to relocate her wedding this Saturday after the violent weekend storm tore through northern Minnesota and snuffed out her plans to marry at Madden’s Resort.
“It’s heartbreaking seeing a staple of the Brainerd lakes area torn to pieces,” she said Tuesday.
Sucik was among hundreds of people who saw plans dashed after the storm damaged some of the area’s most historic resorts. Resort owners are rushing to reopen, power companies are working around the clock to restore power and local officials are frantically logging the damage during the height of the vacation season.
Around Gull Lake, more than 900 vacationers were displaced after 70 mile-per-hour winds tore through the area. The storm pushed trees on top of cars, overturned boats, twisted metal decks and blew the roof off a building at Madden’s.
Madden’s and Cragun’s were shut down by the storm and remained without power Tuesday night.
Dutch Cragun, owner of Cragun’s, said this is the first time weather has forced the resort to close.
“This is the worst, in my experience, in 75 years since my dad started building Cragun’s in 1940,” he said.
Madden’s and Cragun’s resorts have worked together, competed against one another and grown into major vacation enterprises. The resorts have kept their doors open even during wartime, Cragun said.
Madden’s is expected to reopen in two weeks, while Cragun’s will open next week. The resorts did not charge guests for the night of the storm and offered refunds or to rebook customers for future stays.
Power is expected to return to the Brainerd lakes area by Thursday, according to Minnesota Power. About 4,200 properties served by the company were still without power Tuesday night.
Geoff Forbes and his family huddled in the Cragun’s basement storm shelter Sunday waiting for the storm to pass. The next day, Forbes booked a room at nearby Breezy Point Resort, which suffered minor damage.
Breezy Point managers said they welcomed about 100 guests displaced by the storm.
“We’re definitely filling up,” said David Spizzo, assistant general manager. “We’re seeing a bittersweet surge in business.”
Other vacationers were still assessing damage.
At Cragun’s on Sunday, the 2015 Central National Meet of the Early Ford V-8 Club had 87 classic cars from the 1930s through the 1950s parked outside. Some cars in trailers escaped damage, but trees fell on five cars during the storm. One tree crushed the roof of a 1950 Mercury.
“It was devastating to see the damage that was done,” said Bruce Nelson, co-chairman of the car club.
Kavanaugh’s Resort is staying open without power. Half the resort guests opted to stay and the others left, said John Kavanaugh, resort co-owner. Guests who chose to stay are charging their phones in the generator-powered office, and using the pool showers and bathrooms.
He said guests who were supposed to arrive in the next few days are encouraged not to come until the resort has power.
Danielle Hedberg, 35, of Ham Lake, was celebrating her anniversary with her husband and children at Cragun’s when the storm hit. As soon as it passed, guests were ordered to stay in the banquet room.
Chainsaws were heard throughout the night, Hedberg said, as the resort worked to remove storm debris. Resort staff checked out residents the following day by candlelight with paper and pen.
“It was horrible,” she said. “That place will never be the same.”
Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport also took some damage from the storm. A hangar was damaged and 150 feet of fencing struck down by trees, said Jeff Wig, the airport manager.
The Pillsbury State Forest, located just west of the hard-hit Brainerd lakes area, is closed “until further notice” because downed trees have made all forest roads and trails serving the forest impassable, the state Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday.
“The bulk of the damage occurred between Nisswa and Brainerd,” Steve Bartz, the DNR’s Brainerd area assistant forest supervisor, said in a news release. “There is significant blowdown in these areas. Our staff will be flying over the area to assess the damage [Tuesday] morning.”
Following the aerial surveillance, Bartz said the area affected was far smaller than initially feared. “We thought it would be thousands of acres, and it’s more like in the low hundreds of acres,” he said in a follow-up interview.
It is still unclear whether the storm damage will qualify for state or federal disaster aid.
“Counties are still cleaning up and gathering information,” said Bruce Gordon, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. The state and federal government will reimburse local governments only for uninsured losses to public infrastructure. “As it stands now, it doesn’t look like the damage will reach thresholds to request federal reimbursement,” he said.
The trees of the Brainerd area endured the worst of the storm. Dutch Cragun planted little pine trees with his dad the day before Pearl Harbor, when he was 8 years old. Cragun said it was tragic to see his trees, which grew to more than 50 feet, now flat on the ground.
“We will be putting them in again,” he said. “I won’t live to see them full-sized.”
Sucik, meanwhile, decided to move the wedding to her mother’s backyard on Hole-in-the-Day Bay. On Monday, she took a break from using a chain saw to remove downed trees to find rooms for 50 out-of-town guests and secure a caterer, a tent and a dance floor.
Sucik was encouraged by the way things were coming together, but when she stopped to consider the aftermath of the storm, she teared up as she recounted the damage left behind in her hometown.
“My friends and family are pulling together and making things work,” she said.
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this story.