Thousands of people are still waiting for the power to come back on, two days after back-to-back storms toppled trees and power lines across central Minnesota and Twin Cities.
Xcel Energy said the aftermath of the storms created the biggest Minnesota outage ever for the company. Fewer than 50,000 customers are still without power in the Twin Cities as of 3 p.m. Monday. The utility is saying it could be the middle of the week before all the lights are back on.
On Sunday evening, the televisions and houses were all dark along East 38th Street in Minneapolis. Dozens of neighbors were gathered on the sidewalk just west of the West River Parkway talking about daredevil Nik Wallenda walking a tightrope over the Little Colorado River Gorge.
The escapade was being televised, but nobody in the neighborhood could see what was going on.
"Anybody know if Nik Wallenda made it across the Grand Canyon?" one of them asked.
Instead of television, the group was watching an Asplundh crew cut a tree out of the power lines in an alley behind Edmund Boulevard. The tree fell on the wire about 8 p.m. Friday, and the neighborhood went dark. But just as the sun set Sunday night, an Xcel Energy lineman pulled the damaged line tight, and prepared to turn the power back on.
"Oh, look. Light. Light! Woo hoo!"
It was a scene that's been playing out in neighborhoods all over the region as crews hooked more than 600,000 customers back up to the grid after near-hurricane strength winds swept through the area.
"We've got about 1,000 people in the field working. We brought in people from 14 different states, 22 different companies. So we're hitting this storm hard. We're making a lot of good progress," Kent Larson, an Xcel Energy vice president, said Sunday. "We expect the last customers will be restored on Wednesday."
While the vast majority of outages are in the Twin Cities, about 1,000 customers in the St. Cloud area are without power as well. Lines there should all be repaired by Monday afternoon, said Xcel spokesman Jim Hoen.
Crews worked all weekend to restore service cut by the storm, and planning ahead for the work to be done next.
"What we do is we prioritize our outages. One of the first things we do is we prioritize around public health. So if there's a hospital out, we would go out there first. And then we work on the jobs that could bring back the most amount of customers the quickest," he said.
The outages have prompted Minneapolis public schools to cancel summer programs at six buildings that were without power. They include Folwell, Lucy Laney, Nellie Stone Johnson, South High School, the Broadway High School program at Longfellow and the South Campus Adult Basic Education on Lake Street. School officials said the outages affect about 2,000 students.
In the meantime, people have been simply making do, especially in the hard-hit Longfellow community in Minneapolis. Trees were still blocking some roads there and street after street was dark Sunday night.
"I've been reading books by flashlight, and talking to friends on the phone, and that kind of stuff that I don't always have the time to do," said Abby Moore, who was among those taking refuge at the Riverview Cafe on 42nd Avenue. The power was out at her house. She'd come looking for internet access.
"We're all so used being able to be just plugged in and check on stuff on the Internet, or have a question and look it up. So, it's kind of a good exercise in patience and remembers when we didn't have such easy access to all that information,'' she said.
A table near the coffee shop's door with a "charging station" sign above it was covered with power strips, cell phones and laptops charging back up.
Cafe owner David Bernick said that by some quirk, his shop never lost power.
"We had a line out the door, for eight hours straight. People were just so grateful that we were open," he said.
Others have been making do in other ways. Some have generators. Others have been stashing their frozen food in friends' freezers, taking showers at the YMCA and even running extension cords across the street to neighbors without power.
"I don't know, maybe that violates some kind of city thing. I don't know. I'm not looking at that. I'm just thanking neighbors for being helpful and watching out for each other," he said.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says two recent tornadoes in the city and now this massive outage raise some larger issues in his mind.
"Certainly one is where and when or how we could bury more of these wires, so we don't have this erratic situation that the climate may be putting us into," he said. "The second is about our tree canopy. Maybe we need to be thinking about the diversification of that. We'll be asking those big questions over the next couple of weeks."
But Rybak says those questions will wait until everyone's power is back on.
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