Storm-weary residents of southwestern and central Minnesota, the Twin Cities metro area and northwestern Wisconsin were picking up Saturday after deadly thunderstorms packing winds as high as 80 miles per hour, baseball-sized hail and driving rain blew through Friday night.
The wide-ranging, slow-moving storm's deadliest hit was in northwestern Wisconsin's Burnett County, where lightning killed an 11-year-old girl from Hinckley, Minn., and almost 40 others suffered storm-related injuries.
Largely rural Burnett County, usually home to about 17,000 people, swells every July 4th weekend to about 80,000 people who flock to its scenic lakes and campgrounds, according to county spokeswoman Dawn Sargent.
The storm's toll may force many towns in the area to cancel July 4th parades and festivities, she said on Saturday night.
Howling winds also toppled broad swaths of tall trees, knocked over semis and sheds, blew boats ashore and wiped out power to 90,000 Xcel Energy customers across Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.
"This was a pretty significant storm," Xcel spokeswoman Mary Sandok said. Much of the metro area should see power returned by late Sunday, she said.
However, other areas, such as southwestern and western Minnesota, may not have it restored for more than a few days, she said. "When we have a good-size storm, that's not unusual," she said. "This one was pretty extensive."
The storm also ravaged tree stands and forests across the region. About an hour north of Minneapolis, Shirley Johnson and her family were reeling after about 1,000 trees were felled in a heavily wooded area along a 1/8-mile stretch of gravel road near their Cambridge home.
Driveways at the Johnsons' home and four others on the dead-end road are all blocked by fallen maples, oaks and birches, torn up by their roots or snapped in two at the top.
"It's devastating," she said. "It's hard to believe that something that lasted probably less than five minutes could do this much damage."
Quarter-sized hail fell as torrential rain and straight-line winds whipped the Johnsons' windows late Friday. On Saturday morning, they began using chainsaws and tractors to clear away trees so they could leave their driveway.
"It's a mess," she said. "You can only see the mailboxes out front, otherwise you wouldn't have a clue there's a house there."
Two Minnesota state parks sustained tree damage so heavy that a conservation officer who was making sure no campers were in the area had to abandon his vehicle and hike through on foot, said Chris Niskanen of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
He urged people to stay out of Camden and St. Croix state parks, which are technically closed because of the state's government shutdown but could still attract campers because they're public land. He cautioned that some trees may have fallen over but gotten hung up on other trees.
"It's an issue of health and safety," Niskanen said. "Since those parks are closed, they don't have the personnel to go in and remove [the trees]. People need to know there's a danger if they start wandering around."
In central Minnesota, a mess
In central Minnesota's Stearns and Renville counties, no injuries were reported, but dispatchers had received several reports from residents of downed trees and power lines as well as heavy damage to farm sheds and buildings.
In McLeod County, a roof was torn off a Hutchinson animal medical center, and two semis were blown off highways.
"Some communities had multiple passes at this storm -- including golf ball-, baseball- and softball-sized hail," said Matt Friedlein , a National Weather Service meteorologist in the Twin Cities, adding that experts have yet to determine whether any tornadoes touched down.
The storm, which began during an afternoon of steamy weather with temperatures in the 90s, entered southwestern Minnesota on Friday afternoon and took nearly six hours to pass through the state before roaring into northwestern Wisconsin.
The only good it did, many in the area said, was to cool things down by almost 20 degrees.
In east-central Minnesota, residents reported heavy damage to homes in the northwestern part of Chisago County, according to county dispatchers.
In Meeker County, a driver was injured when hail the size of a baseball hit a vehicle's windshield, and another person was hurt in a fall from a ladder while trying to clear downed tree limbs.
Marshall Fire Chief Marc Klaith said roofs were torn off in Marshall, Russell and Balaton, and a "significant amount of trees" were down. Tyler Police Chief John Spindler said he believes a tornado hit the city just after 4 p.m. Friday, possibly knocking out power for a week.
In Wisconsin, a child dies
In Burnett County, the unidentified 11-year-old Hinckley girl died when lightning struck a tree she was near as she tried to flee the storm. Thirty-nine others were hospitalized, three of them in critical condition.
"It is very chaotic today," Sargent said on Saturday.
Another death Friday that had been widely attributed to the storm was unrelated to the weather, she said.
In addition, a search was underway along the St. Croix River for possibly missing canoeists, the Wisconsin Emergency Management Office reported. Boats were upended and blown ashore in the area.
Straight-line winds in Burnett and Douglas counties approached 80 miles per hour when the storm started at 7 p.m. Friday, lasting only about an hour but blocking many roads with toppled trees and debris and knocking out power to thousands of homes.
The Red Cross set up a station to hand out food and water at the middle school in Grantsburg, Wis., one of the hardest-hit towns. County crews are beginning aerial surveillance to assess the damage, said Sargent, who awoke to the sound of chainsaws at 6 a.m. Saturday.
"We're trying to pull this together," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141