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Published May 02, 2011, 05:41 PM

Many in Western ND, Eastern MT Still Without Power After Weekend Blizzard

About 20,000 people in northwest North Dakota and eastern Montana were without power Monday following a weekend blizzard that felled hundreds of utility poles and briefly halted production in North Dakota's booming oil patch, officials said.

By: James MacPherson, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — About 20,000 people in northwest North Dakota and eastern Montana were without power Monday following a weekend blizzard that felled hundreds of utility poles and briefly halted production in North Dakota's booming oil patch, officials said.

Saturday's spring storm brought winds of more than 60 mph and heavy, wet snow, causing whiteout conditions and road closures throughout western North Dakota. An estimated 30,000 people lost electricity, and Wally Kalmbach, safety director for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, said it could be at least a week before power is restored to all areas. Permanent repairs could take months.

"The structural damage is significant," Kalmbach said.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said companies have been scrambling since the storm to get oil wells back on line. At least one day's worth of production — or more than 350,000 barrels — was lost to the blizzard, he said.

"We'll get that back up," Ness said. "What's significant is the power outages to homes and cities."

Williams and Mountrail counties, in North Dakota's northwest corner, were the hardest hit by the storm, Kalmbach said. Williams County had at least 300 poles down and Mountrail County had some 200 down, he said. Much of the snow was gone Monday, but muddy conditions hampered repair crews, he said.

A statement issued by the North Dakota Emergency Services Department said about12,500 people in Williston still lacked power Monday. The city is serviced by Bismarck-based Montana-Dakota Utilities.

Jody Link, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jack Dalrymple, said the utility hoped to have power restored to Williston on Monday evening. About half of the outages reported in rural areas of North Dakota had been restored by Monday morning, she said.

"The state stands by to assist locals in whatever is needed," she said.

The damage and cost of repairs was still being tallied Monday. Link said it's possible the governor would seek a federal disaster declaration to help communities get aid.

"That is an option," she said. "Our main focus right now is to get the power restored."

The damage must surpass $1 million for North Dakota to be eligible for a federal disaster declaration, and Kalmbach said it was likely to add up to at least that much.

"In my opinion it will be reached but the federal government is squeezed for dollars so I don't know how that will affect us," he said.

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