Chad Cummings, general manager and co-owner of Radio Works LLC., speaks with MPR News about the weather in southwest Minnesota.
Q. What's the last day been like?
I went to bed at 3 a.m. as trees, were snap, crackle - and shotgun blasts sounded like they were going off all around our area. And I woke up at 5. And I was going to one of my three towers to check on power out there. And as I was on my way there, after dodging power lines sagging barely above my pickup truck and such, one of my morning guys called my cell phone, and the eerie feeling came over as I answered it and I said 'It's on the ground, isn't it?' and he said, 'Yep.' At our main studios outside of Worthington, about two-thirds of our tower just fell over, covered with ice.
Q. The weight of the ice brought it down?
A. Absolutely. There was two-plus inches of ice surrounding each section of the tower. Huge amounts of weight. I live in Brewster, Minn., which is six miles northeast of Worthington - I drove from Brewster to Round Lake, then from Round Lake to Worthington. And to see the number of power lines and power poles down - the utter devastation to trees. Worthington isn't gonna look the same for quite some time.
Q. What's the process for getting back on track for you?
A. We did get that one tower back full of power and we are up and running on one of our FMs. I have three FM stations and one AM station. We have currently one of the FMs and the AM back up. It did take a backup wire to get our AM back up that we had to knock a lot of ice off of. That meant getting payloaders out here to pull bucket-boom trucks and pickup trucks to get to it. There's just enough moisture on the ground that (it's like) pure grease.
AM730 KWOA is back on the air on low power, on a backup antennae. 93.5 FM KITN is up and operational on low power. We lost, of course, 91.5FM KUSQ. And we still have another tower that is standing and non-operational because we don't have power out in the rural areas for KZTP.
Q. Have you found yourself in this bad of a situation before?
A. No. Never. The tower here did collapse in 1997. But that was a pure collapse. The tower dropped straight down, as they're designed to do. This time it was a mismatch of wind and weight and it toppled to the southwest and just tipped. It's amazing.
I don't think I'm too far out of line when I say 80 percent of the tree population in Nobles County is severely affected. I don't think I'm far off on that at all, I really don't. The worst is the worst isn't over. It's still misting as we speak. It's been doing this for over 24 hours and we're right at about freezing right now.
Q. So you could lose another tower?
A. Or even worse. Who knows. There've been people sitting without power for 24 hours now in rural areas of Jackson, Nobles, Rock counties. This is utter devastation out here. I'm really in a daze as to what's happening because it's just unbelievable. We sat in meetings today with county, city, government officials, healthcare providers and emergency management, and on the phone with emergency management coordinators from the state of Minnesota, talking about 'how do we keep information flowing? How do we keep accessibility for medical clinics?' Worthington is literally running on diesel generation that only provides portions of the town rolling power. And so there's rolling blackout throughout Worthington. Industry has completely stopped. Because there's no power. McDonald's, Burger King, Hardees--they can't keep friers going. So everything is literally shut down. It's completely crippled and to add it up - we're going to reach the tens of millions in a very short period. And it's not over.
Q. So are you getting the help you need?
A. We are getting the help we need through emergency management and the state. The city of Worthington has declared a state of emergency, the city of Brewster has declared a state of emergency, the county and all those are functioning under the premise of everything going through Nobles county dispatch and the Worthington Police Department. Emergency calls only, no travel advised. Power crews are still working. Nobles Cooperative Electric has over 3,000 customers without power and it could be three days before that's going to happen, so they've got crews coming in from other agencies. Local contractors and farmers are being hired and brought in by the municipalities to help with debris clean up. Virtually every single block of the city of Worthington is littered in downed tree branches, downed trees - they've falled on cars, on houses, on businesses. And thankfully we haven't heard of anybody having anything fall on them. My studios are fully powered by generators if needed.
Q. How long can those go for?
A. Well the fuel truck was here and 7,500 gallons of fuel was brought to the diesel generation in Worthington and they're on schedule. I believe it is every 12 hours or so to get another truckload of diesel. I think it's a thousand gallons an hour are getting burned.