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Dayton to Minneapolis, after twisters: 'The state stands ready to help'

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Tornado damage
A house had a wall torn off on Sheridan Ave. Monday, May 23, 2011 after a tornado ripped through Minneapolis, Minn. Sunday.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

North Minneapolis is reeling from the tornado Sunday that caused two deaths, injured dozens, downed power lines, crushed cars and damaged homes. 

Floyd David Whitfield, 59, of north Minneapolis,  died in his car when a large part of a tree went through his front windshield, struck and killed him.  

Another man, 54-year-old Rob MacIntyre collapsed and died while hauling fallen trees in the aftermath of the tornado near Wirth Park.

MacIntyre was president of the Raptor Resource Project and is credited with helping restore hundreds of Peregrine falcons to the Mississippi River bluffs. 

  Most of the injured were taken to North Memorial Hospital where a spokesperson said none of the patients they treated had serious injuries. The hospital treated 33 patients for storm-related injuries Sunday. 

More than 200 people whose homes were damaged sought shelter at the Northeast Armory. The storm also caused significant damage in Brooklyn Center, Blaine, Fridley and Coon Rapids.  

"The state stands ready to help in whatever way we possibly can," Gov. Mark Dayton said.

Dayton toured the West Broadway Avenue area along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Keith Ellison and other city and state officials. 

Minneapolis police set up an "exclusion zone" Monday morning in the hardest hit areas of north Minneapolis while crews work to remove downed power lines, repair gas leaks and clear roads. Once they determine that a block is safe, those residents will be allowed back in through one of the area's 13 checkpoints. Non-residents are excluded entirely from the area.

"Right now we need to ask everyone who doesn't need to be in north Minneapolis to not be in north Minneapolis," said Sgt. William Palmer, spokesman for the Minneapolis Police Department.

SCHOOLS CLOSED

At least 12 Minneapolis schools are closed Monday: Lucy Laney, Cityview Community, Nellie Stone Johnson, Hmong International Academy, Urban League Academy Elementary, Northstar, Plymouth Youth Center, Sojourner Truth Charter School, Bright Water Elementary, KIPP, Four Directions and Richard Allen Math and Science. All public schools in Fridley are closed.

Sojourner Truth Charter School is closed for the rest of the year because its building sustained damage.

The rest of the closed buildings weren't damaged, but school officials said it was hard to get students to the schools because many streets are blocked with debris.

Minneapolis School District spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said officials will decide later Monday whether to stay closed again tomorrow.

"We'll look to the city to help us make some decisions as to if and when the streets will be clear to transport students," Hicks said.

The district is asking some parents to pick up their children Monday afternoon. In a recorded message to families, a district spokesperson said roads in the tornado destruction zone are still not passable for buses.  

Officials say school staff will wait at each school building until all children are picked up. 

North High School and Patrick Henry High Schools are open to provide families with water and food. Families can stop by anytime Monday, said Minneapolis Public Schools spokesman Stan Alleyne.  

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said north Minneapolis residents are working together to rebuild their neighborhood.

"Last night was a very quiet night in north Minneapolis, a lot of stories of people helping each other," he said at a news conference early Monday morning. "Any of those predictions that it would be chaotic proved not to be founded. North Minneapolis proved to be the great community it is."

Few crimes were reported Sunday night in the darkness left by the storm. The mayor said there was one looting incident at a liquor store and a handful of burglaries.

City officials will distribute food Monday in at least three locations. Cub Foods will host a dinner for people in the neighborhood. 

XCEL WORKING TO RESTORE POWER

The storms left at least 25,000 homes without electricity. Xcel spokesman Steve Roalstad said Monday morning that crews have been working around the clock and have restored power to 11,000 homes. Most of the 14,000 homes without electricity are in north Minneapolis, with some in Golden Valley, and the rest scattered throughout the metro area.

Some residents will need to have an electrician make repairs to their homes before Xcel can safely restore power. 

"Wherever the tornado touched down, it just destroyed our distribution system," he said. "Poles and wires are down. Transformers are down. We have to send out crews and completely rebuild our system from the ground up in some cases and that will take some time."

Officials have asked residents to watch for gas leaks. The storm uprooted as many as 50 natural gas service lines in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park. 

MOST DAMAGE IN NORTH MINNEAPOLIS

Rybak said many buildings in north Minneapolis will need to be destroyed. City and council officials formed a task force to address the housing issues and immediate needs of area residents.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch about two hours before a tornado was spotted. The twister moved quickly and covered a large distance from north Minneapolis into Fridley, and then into Anoka County. There were also reports of tornadoes near Forest Lake and Chisago County. 

"The tree fell on my house. The whole roof caved in, the car, everything."

The tornado was the first to hit the city since August of 2009. The line of damage stretched from just west of Minneapolis through the city and into the northeastern suburbs, but much of the storm's destruction was concentrated in north Minneapolis, where dozens of homes and buildings were damaged, and many trees and power lines were knocked down. 

That's where resident Vereata Giddings was waiting on a bus with her family on their way to an emergency Red Cross shelter. The storm destroyed everything Giddings had. 

"The tree fell on my house. The whole roof caved in, the car, everything. I don't even know where we will sleep tonight," she said Sunday.

Giddings said neighbors helped carry her injured mother to the corner when an ambulance couldn't access their street, which was blocked by trees. With both her cars destroyed, she worries about how she'll get to the hospital to see her mother. But for now her concerns were more immediate. 

"We don't know where to go. I don't know what to do," she said. "We don't even have clothes because the whole roof caved in. I don't even know whether we'll be able to take anything out of there. This is all we got on us." 

By Sunday afternoon the storm had left a wake of damaged homes and downed trees across the north side. Some buildings were completely collapsed. 

By Sunday night, Mayor Rybak declared a local emergency, and instituted a nighttime curfew in part of the north side, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in an area bounded by Penn Avenue and Interstate 94, and Dowling and Plymouth Avenues. 

In Fridley, officials reported no injuries or deaths. But they say the storm left significant damage to homes and businesses, overturned railroad cars and left a mess of downed trees and live power lines.

(MPR reporters Brandt Williams and Tom Weber contributed to this report.)