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Published May 23, 2011, 04:04 AM

Officials to Tour Minneapolis Tornado Damage

Some of the city's poorest neighborhoods faced rebuilding after a swift, deadly tornado ripped through northern Minneapolis, tearing roofs off houses, toppling huge trees and power lines and knocking over rail cars.

By: Chris Williams, Jeff Baenen, Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Some of the city's poorest neighborhoods faced rebuilding after a swift, deadly tornado ripped through northern Minneapolis, tearing roofs off houses, toppling huge trees and power lines and knocking over rail cars.

About 150 people flocked to a shelter at an armory after Sunday's tornado left some homes inhabitable and scattered debris and braches in streets.

"This is a distressed neighborhood in the first place," said Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, who visited the shelter Sunday night. "These families are suffering a tremendous loss. They don't have the resources; they don't know what they're going to do."

At least one person was killed and 30 others hurt. At least 100 homes were damaged, and a joint city-county team planned to be at the shelter Monday to begin assessing emergency housing needs.

The tornado was part of a weather system that raked the metropolitan area from west to east on a swift march starting about 2:15 p.m. It was part of a larger outbreak through the central U.S. that included Joplin, Mo., and La Crosse, Wis.

Minneapolis city spokeswoman Sara Dietrich said the death was confirmed by the Hennepin County medical examiner. She had no other immediate details. Only two of the injured were hurt critically.

Though the damage covered several blocks, it appeared few houses were totally demolished. Much of the damage was to roofs, front porches that had been sheared away, or smaller items such as fences and basketball goals.

The tornado left part of a garage door in a tree. Many large trees were uprooted and toppled or left leaning against houses.

Residents walked around their neighborhoods taking in all the damage. Some chatted on cellphones about what they saw, while others snapped pictures.

Others went to work, tending to downed trees with chain saws, machetes and hacksaws.

The tornado left a tree leaning against Pat Trafton's house, but she said her family escaped harm.

"It's been a crazy day," Trafton, 67, said. "They say it was a monster tornado. ... It all just happened so fast."

National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Krause said it was clearly a tornado — the first to hit the city since August 2009.

"There was no doubt right away," he said. "When we are out on our damage survey, the purpose will not be to determine if it was a tornado. That was obvious. The purpose will be to see the strength, width."

The Minnesota storm's path tracked from the western suburbs, where it hit a condo complex and two businesses in St. Louis Park, before rattling north Minneapolis and hitting the northern suburb of Fridley, where it overturned two railroad cars and lifted roofs off several homes and damaged three businesses.

Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan called the twister "at least five times as large as what we saw in 2009." That tornado took off part of a church's steeple and toppled trees near the heart of downtown Minneapolis.

Dolan said a four-square-mile area would be under curfew overnight for the next three days to guard against looting, and police asked people who didn't live in the area to stay away. A shelter for those displaced by the storm was set up at a nearby armory.

Kristin Burkhalter, 47, stood in front of the pile of debris on Upton Avenue that had been her home and said she didn't know what she and her husband would do next. "Our cars are gone, our clothes are gone, everything is," she said.

They were renting the house and they didn't have any insurance, she said.

But she was thankful her husband survived. She said he was going into the basement as the storm hit, and the house shifted before he got down the stairs. Instead, he jumped out of a window to safety. "He is one lucky man," she said.

On the same street, Laura Sigueroa, 30, said she heard the sirens but didn't think there would be a tornado. Her house had only minor damage, but a massive tree fell across her burnt orange Chevrolet Cavalier, crushing the passenger compartment to the ground.

"We just thought it was a major rain, then it sound like a train coming through," she said.

The storms uprooted as many as 50 natural gas service lines in Minneapolis and suburban St. Louis Park, and CenterPoint Energy warned residents to be careful of leaks. Xcel Energy reported more than 20,000 of its customers lost electricity in the metro area.

Xcel said 22,000 metro customers lost power at the height of the storm, with north Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Brooklyn Center and Fridley hardest hit. About half those customers were still without power as night fell.

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Associated Press writer Tara Bannow contributed to this report.

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