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Douglas County recovers from night of destruction

Crews restore power, chainsaws cut up trees

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This overhead shot of house ravaged by a tornado on Thursday, May 12, 2022, was taken with a drone by Andrew Lauer of Alexandria. The house sits on the corner of West Meadow Lane NW and Donna Drive in northwest Alexandria.
Andrew Lauer / Contributed photo
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DOUGLAS COUNTY – Buzzing chainsaws could be heard throughout Douglas County over the weekend as residents recovered from a Thursday night tornado in northwest Alexandria, and straight-line winds in other areas of 90 to 100 miles per hour.

Luther Crest Bible Camp along County Road 11 reported that it lost more than 40 trees in the main area of the camp. About 140 volunteers helped the camp recover, using three skid loaders, trucks and four-wheelers. By Sunday, the camp estimated that 88% of the clean-up was complete.

Two National Weather Service meteorologists, along with Douglas County Emergency Management, reviewed two large areas of storm damage in Douglas County on Friday, May 13 and confirmed that the damage on the south side of Lake Darling in northwest Alexandria was caused by a tornado.

That area appeared to have the most concentrated damage to homes, according to the weather service.

A tornado rating hasn’t been finalized yet, but the wind speed was reported to be at least 100 miles per hour, which would put it in the EF0 to EF1 range on a scale that goes to EF5.

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The weather service also reviewed damage on the west side of Lake Carlos and believes that was caused by straight-line winds with a speed of 90 to 100 mph.

Douglas County has declared an emergency and will continue to work with cities, townships and others to review damage across the county and determine a damage estimate.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported in Douglas County.

How it began

The National Weather Service and Douglas County Code Red issued a severe thunderstorm warning at 7:01 p.m. Thursday night for Douglas, Pope, Chippewa, Stevens, Swift and Kandiyohi counties.

Accompanied by heavy sheets of rain, the storm in Douglas County toppled decades-old trees, power lines, transformers, boat lifts, sheds and other structures.

One of the hardest hit areas was South Darling Drive NW, where houses were flattened, boats turned over, roofs torn away, a camper tipped over, and vehicles damaged.

A wind gust of 87 mph was reported by a sensor on I-94 near Alexandria, and a wind gust of 72 mph was recorded at the Alexandria airport Thursday night, according to Michelle Margraf, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities.

Damage to buildings and/or downed trees were reported in Alexandria, Garfield, Osakis and Carlos.

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Along Donna Drive, Darling Drive and West Meadow Lane in northwest Alexandria, dozens of trees in soggy soil were uprooted. Many of them toppled into the street.

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This overhead drone picture taken by Andrew Lauer of Alexandria shows the widespread damage to an area in northwest Alexandria after a tornado hit shortly after 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 12, 2022. Some of the hardest hit areas were Donna Drive and South Darling Drive.
Andrew Lauer / Contributed photo

Home ripped apart

A home at the corner of Donna Drive and West Meadow Lane was ripped apart. The wind blew away the roof, some siding and collapsed a garage. Trees and debris fell on the vehicles inside. The homeowner, who didn't want to be identified, said he and his wife were in the basement when the winds picked up around 7:15 p.m. and they were not injured.

The homeowner had just installed new siding and windows a few months ago.

Alexandria firefighters were called to that area and removed a large tree that had toppled onto another house.

Restoring power

Following the storm, Runestone Electric Association had more than 7,000 service accounts without power – about 60% of its service territory. If you are still without power, report it to REA by calling 800‐473‐1722.

By Sunday evening, only a handful of scattered individual outages remained.

The storm caused damage to transmission and distribution lines across a wide swath of Runestone Electric’s service territory – from Morris to Eagle Bend, and everything in between, according to the cooperative.

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Repairs involved cutting trees from lines, replacing broken poles and splicing broken wires.

Crews from REA, ALP Utilities, Lake Region Electric Cooperative, Stearns Electric Association and Highline Construction worked through the weekend to restore power.

“Although most of the power is restored, cleaning up storm damage will continue,” the REA noted. “We have our work cut out for us! A huge thank you to our members for being patient with us as we worked to restore power as quickly and safely as possible.”

Busy night for law enforcement

Local law enforcement agencies were also busy throughout the storm and its aftermath.

Between 7 p.m. and midnight, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Alexandria Police Department and Osakis Police Department responded to about 40 calls for service related to the storm — trees falling on electric lines, downed power poles, trees blocking roads, sparking power lines, property damage, semis in the median on I-94, jack-knifed semis, electrical fires, boat lifts blown from a cabin onto a road, and more.

Other damage reports from throughout the county came across the police scanner. Locations impacted by the severe thunderstorms included Glenwood Airport, Swift Falls, Alberta, Garfield, Willmar Airport, Villard, Blomkest, Fish Lake, Miltona and Holmes City.

Vehicles blown off Interstate 94

Travel was also affected, with trees blocking roads and streets. Also, shortly before 9 p.m., eastbound Interstate 94 was temporarily closed near Alexandria due to overturned semis from high winds. The lanes reopened at about 10:15 p.m.

Strong wind gusts between 72 and 87 miles per hour blew three vehicles off Intestate 94 in Douglas County.

The crashes happened in the space of 7 minutes.

At 7:10 p.m., Katherine Dell Gruver, 24, of West Fargo was driving east on the freeway near mile post 104 in Hudson Township east of Alexandria when wind gusts blew her 2018 Mitsubushi Outlander into the cables along I-94.

About 4 minutes later, Flores Comancho Eduardo, 53, of Sterling, Illinois was driving east on the interstate near mile post 101 in LaGrand Township when straight-line winds overturned his 2021 Freightliner semi.

At 7:17 p.m., Juan Anibal Gonzalez, 50, of Cocoa, Florida was driving east when straight-line winds overturned his semi near mile post 92 in Moe Township. The Brandon Fire Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office and North Ambulance responded to the scene.

All three drivers were wearing their seat belts, suffered non-life-threatening injuries and were taken by North Memorial Ambulance to Alomere Health in Alexandria, according to the State Patrol.

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Andrew Lauer of Alexandria captured this photo Friday, May 13, with his drone. It shows the area hit by a tornado along South Darling Drive in northwest Alexandria.
Andrew Lauer / Contributed photo
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