Cleanup continues across Minnesota after 'devastating' storms on Memorial Day
Updated: 9:15 p.m.
Cleanup continued Tuesday across a wide swath after severe storms — including at least three tornadoes — left a trail of major damage through several western Minnesota counties on Monday.
That includes Forada, Minn., located on Maple Lake just south of Alexandria. The National Weather Service Tuesday evening said an EF-2 tornado swept through the community the day before. The Weather Service said winds blasted a maximum 120 miles per hour and evidence indicates a path a half mile wide with “multiple vortexes.”
"Forada took a direct hit," Mayor David Reller told MPR News. "Devastating damage with so many homes and structures and mature trees being uprooted — huge cottonwoods that were at least 3, 4 feet in diameter.”
Reller said his roof was damaged and nearly all his trees are gone — and he says some have it much worse.
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“There's families where their house — there's nothing left. They just look like it exploded,” he said. “It's just tragic, you know — but thank God nobody was hurt, so now it's just a matter of today is where we're gonna start cleaning up.”
Douglas County Emergency Manager Julie Anderson said dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed in the small community.
"About 75, maybe up to 100 — we are not sure of the level of damage, how many will be destroyed,” she said. “We will be working through that process today and determining what we can do to assist the homeowners in the short term, and then the longer term."
Photos posted by the Alexandria Echo Press showed homes and other buildings with roofs torn off or completely leveled, and debris scattered through the lakeside neighborhood after tthe Memorial Day storms.
Anderson asked that people from outside Forada stay away from the community, due to downed power lines and ongoing cleanup efforts. She said there also was storm damage in the community of Nelson, east of Alexandria.
To the northeast of Alexandria, the Todd County Sheriff's Office asked people to stay away from the city of Eagle Bend on Monday night due to significant storm damage. Aerial photos showed roofs torn off buildings, trees on homes and major damage to large grain bins in town.
The National Weather Service said Tuesday an EF-1 tornado hit Eagle Bend, with winds of 95 miles per hour, and took a path through Todd county. Four counties from near Appleton to the Glenwood area had tornado damage. The NWS said Plato, Minn. also had an EF-1 with winds of around 90 miles per hour.
"Emergency crews are actively working to clear buildings and assess damage," the sheriff's office reported in a Facebook post on Monday night. "There are power lines down and many roads are impassable."
And to the north, in Itasca County, photos posted to social media showed roofs torn from buildings and garages collapsed after storms moved through Deer River, west of Grand Rapids.
The city of Deer River reported Monday evening that traffic was being limited in the city due to storm damage — though in an update Tuesday morning, city officials said most streets have since reopened.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or fatalities in Forada, Eagle Bend, Deer River or elsewhere across the state.
Possible tornado touchdowns also were reported Monday near Starbuck and Milan.
The National Weather Service's Twin Cities office said Tuesday it had survey teams out to look at damage not just in Douglas County but also in Todd, Pope, Swift, Stevens, McLeod and Carver counties.
Forecasters had warned through the holiday weekend of the chance for severe storms on Monday. And when a tornado watch was issued for much of the state just after 2:30 p.m. Monday, the Weather Service called it a "particularly dangerous situation," with an atmospheric setup that made "several strong tornadoes likely" along with large hail and damaging winds.
To the north, there were reports of trees and power lines down in Otter Tail County; near Pequot Lakes and Breezy Point north of Brainerd; and in the Hinckley area. Building damage was reported in Deer River, northwest of Grand Rapids.
Utility companies across the state reported more than 35,000 homes and businesses without power as early Tuesday afternoon, as crews worked overnight to restore power.
Among the hardest-hit areas were from near Alexandria northeast through the Brainerd Lakes region and on toward Grand Rapids.
Minnesota Power, which provides service to many communities across central and northeast Minnesota, reported more than 11,000 of its customers remained without power early Tuesday and said "early damage assessments by our crews indicate this will be a multi-day restoration event."
The Runestone Electric Association provides power to communities surrounding Alexandria. It reported early Monday evening that it had more than 6,000 customers without power. That number was down to about 3,000 by late Monday night.
The utility urged people to use caution around downed power lines as storm cleanup continues, and to never assume those lines have been de-energized.
The storms also brought heavy rain — including to far northern Minnesota where the battle against flooding in the Rainy River basin continues.
The National Weather Service reported that International Falls set a new daily record Monday with more than 2 inches of rain.