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Windstorm in Itasca County claims a life

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A line of severe storms that ran through northern Minnesota on Monday evening claimed one life, has left thousands of people without electricity, and has the Grand Rapids Police Department recommending only limited travel in the residential areas of the city.

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Lake Country Power Company reports that it may be several days before power is restored to all of its 10,000 customers who are without electricity.

A rural Goodland man apparently drowned Monday after the boat he was in capsized in high winds on Swan Lake, the Itasca County Sheriff's Office reports. The body of Roy Jasper Flug, age 49, was recovered this morning in 8½ feet of water.

Shortly before 8:30 p.m. Monday a man called Itasca County 911 to report that his boat had capsized under the Minnesota Highway 65 Bridge on Swan Lake due to the high winds. The man said he was able to swim to shore, but that Flug was swept out by the high winds and the current. Flug was not wearing a life jacket.

Itasca County sheriff's deputies, Itasca County Search and Rescue, Nashwauk Fire Department, and the Nashwauk Dive Team responded to the scene and searched until dark. Searchers resumed their work at first light today, recovering Flug's body around 8:30 a.m.

The highest recorded wind speed the National Weather Service reported was 61 mph at Cass Lake. Grand Rapids Chief of Police Jim Denny said he's received unofficial reports of winds close to 80 mph.

"I haven't seen winds like this whip through here in my time," he said. "It's pretty bad with the trees down."

Denny is asking people to limit their travel to and around Grand Rapids as crews deal with down trees and power lines.

Although most of the power has been shut off, people are asked to stay away from all downed power lines and report them to the Grand Rapids Public Utility Office.

"There may still be some live wires they (public utilities) aren't aware of because we are still trying to get a handle on just how much damage there is," Denny said. "We want people to stay away."

Public utility crews are working to restore power to the city; however, residents can expect lengthy delays until power can be fully restored, Denny said.

"There is extensive damage throughout the city," with trees down on streets, yards, and buildings, and power lines down, Denny said shortly after 8 a.m. today.

Grand Rapids police also are asking residents to report any severely damaged homes, where people may have been injured, to the police department.

The damage was from a line of severe storms that brought destructive winds to a wide swath of northern Minnesota on Monday evening, with areas from Bemidji eastward across Itasca County particularly hard-hit.

The Itasca County Sheriff's Office reported "an extreme amount of property damage and widespread power outages" including in several communities along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor. Because it's unknown how long people will be without power, the office recommends that residents "conserve water and other resources in preparation for a long term outage. Please stay clear of downed lines and suspended trees."

About 10,000 Lake Country Power customers were without electricity this morning.

"We have fluctuated between 8,000 and up to 11,500 members out," Lake Country Power spokesman Mike Biraeland said this morning. "We are getting on top of it as quickly as we can, but the challenge here is not only trees down and not only are poles down, but when substations are out, that complicates matters and affects more people."

Substations are out of service because transmission lines, as a well as distribution lines, were affected by the storm, Biraeland said.

Three of Lake Country Power's substations lost power. One of Minnesota Power's transmission lines that feeds into Lake Country Power's service area near Nashwauk and Crooked Lake is also out of service. Large three-phase poles are down in some areas.

"It's a mess out there," he said.

Among the Lake Country Power customers without electricity is Larry Causin, who lives on Pokegama Lake south of Grand Rapids.

"It blew in, blew hard, and blew out," he said of the storm's winds. "It blew maybe half an hour. I haven't seen the wind blow that hard in years."

Bemidji also saw damage from the storms, with authorities there advising emergency travel only in the city shortly after 7 p.m. because of trees and power lines down across the community. All phone service except for 911 calls was reported down at one point in the evening. Wind gusts in Bemidji were estimated at 70 to 80 mph.

In Duluth, the storms brought back bad memories of the severe flash flooding of two weeks ago as they swept into the Twin Ports after 9 p.m., but aside from a vivid lightning show, lots of thunder and some steady rain, there were few immediate reports of severe weather in Duluth and Superior. A large tree was reported down on Central Entrance at about 9:10 p.m., according to a National Weather Service report, and lightning apparently started a garage fire 328 South 70th Avenue West at about 10:18 p.m. Monday. The fire caused an estimated $15,000 in damage.

The Duluth News Tribune is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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