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Southern MN picking up the pieces after wild April blizzard

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A row of power line poles are snapped from ice and wind along Highway 56.
A row of 14 power line poles are snapped from ice and wind along Highway 56 south of Interstate 90 on Thursday near Brownsdale, Minn.
Andrew Link | Rochester Post Bulletin via AP

Power is still out for thousands of people across southern Minnesota following Thursday's wild April blizzard. It will take several days to replace hundreds of downed power poles in rural areas, officials say.

During the worst of the storm, amid the ice, snow and 50 mph winds, more than 8,000 Freeborn-Mower Electric Cooperative customers lost power. As of midday Friday, about half had power restored.

The co-op has about 500 power poles broken or on the ground, and crews are working hard to replace or reset them, said CEO Jim Krueger. It will likely be late Monday before all customers have power, he added.

Nearly 2,000 power poles across southern Minnesota were damaged in the storm.

Extra crews from other cooperatives arrived Friday to help restore power, working in challenging conditions replacing poles in snow and mud. Krueger called the destruction second only to the devastating 1991 Halloween ice storm. 

"We've got a lot a lot of damage across a large geographical area," he said.

Power went out in the small town of Kiester, Minn., between Albert Lea and Blue Earth in southern Minnesota early Thursday morning. Mayor Richard Goggin opened the community center as a shelter because it has a backup generator.

Only a handful of the town's 437 residents spent Thursday night at the shelter, although a few dozen showed up Friday morning for scrambled eggs and sausages, a breakfast Goggin jokingly described as Kiester's "first annual electricity appreciation course."

Pancakes are on the menu Saturday.

Kiester residents appear to be taking the power outage in stride, though more people may leave cold homes for a warm shelter if power is still out Friday night, he said. 

"Tonight is going to be a little colder than last night and I'm sure there were a few people who stayed in their houses last night that woke up thinking they should of went to the community center," he said.

State officials say they're adding up the costs of spring flooding and this week's storm to see if Minnesota reaches the $8 million threshold to qualify for federal disaster aid.

Towns like Kiester will likely have power restored before many rural farms, though nearly all the dairy operations in southeastern Minnesota have backup power generators, said Lucas Sjostrom, executive director of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.

A concern for dairy farmers is getting a milk truck to the farm, because they need to empty milk tanks every day. Sjostrom said some are pulling milk trucks in and out of the farm with a tractor because of snow and muddy rural roads.

As the blizzard's snow melts, it will send another inch or two of water into rivers next week. The additional water extends the flood risk, but rivers aren't expected to go higher than they did earlier this spring, said Joe Kelly, director of the state's Homeland Security and Emergency Management office.

"I think Minnesota's going to be susceptible to a high volume rain event-induced flood, boy, if not for the first half of the summer, maybe all year," he said. "There's just a lot of water in the system."