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Published July 02, 2012, 09:36 PM

Severe Storm Hits Bemidji Hard

BEMIDJI - A fast-moving thunderstorm tore through Bemidji shortly before 7 p.m. Monday, leaving a wide swath of debris, downed trees and much of the city without power.

By: Kayla Prasek, Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - A fast-moving thunderstorm tore through Bemidji shortly before 7 p.m. Monday, leaving a wide swath of debris, downed trees and much of the city without power.

The storm produced 80 mph straight-line winds, Dave Kellenbenz, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D., said.

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said that while the department didn’t immediately know the extent of the damage, he had crews out checking every street for downed power lines.

“There was also some damage on the east side of the lake,” Hodapp said. “They had a lot of trees down and some hail damage.”

Massive trees along Lake Avenue were uprooted, blocking the road and delaying travel. Crews opened up most of the road within a couple of hours.

The majority of the county was reporting no power, and Hodapp said the power company didn’t know when power would be restored.

Warning sirens sounded as the thunderstorm rolled through the area, toppling trees onto homes, cars and streets. Once the storm passed, cleanup started nearly immediately.

A man driving on Roosevelt Road stopped at Kay Avenue, grabbed a Stihl chainsaw and began cutting a large pine tree blocking the road. The man, who declined to give his name, said he was from Bemidji and just wanted to help out however he could. Neighbors began dragging trees to the curb – a scene seen throughout most of the city.

Terry Seitz, an operator with the city of Bemidji, was out pumping the sewer so it wouldn’t back up.

“It was near the top, so we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t have any more issues,” Seitz said. “This is the worst storm I’ve seen in a long time.”

Seitz also said half the trees were down at Diamond Point Park.

Hodapp said there were no injuries or death related to the storm as of 9 p.m.

Kellenbenz said the large thunderstorm complex grew quickly due to the heat and moisture in the air.

“The conditions all day are what produced the straight-line winds of 80-85 mph,” Kellenbenz said. “I would also estimate that the area received about one inch of rain in about 20 minutes.”

Kellenbenz said the area would see another line of storms over the July 4 holiday.

Earlier in the day, the weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for much of northern Minnesota, advising hail, large amounts of rain and tornadoes were possible.

The storm flattened a fireworks stand, destroyed the greenhouse behind Ace Hardware and tore the Dairy Queen sign into shreds, sending part of it sailing into Lake Bemidji. The entertainment tent and canopies from the carnival rides for the Jaycees Water Carnival were also ruined.

Firefighters began providing traffic control and blocked some intersections as hundreds of motorists clogged city streets to survey damage. Bemidji Avenue North was sealed off near Bemidji State University, where several repair crews were busy cleaning up storm damage.

Hodapp said he planned to meet with Police Chief Mike Mastin about securing the city as most street and traffic lights went dark.

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