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Thunderstorms knock out trees, power for 1000s in area

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Ted Sullivan with Northern Tree and Landscape cuts a tree Wednesday in Breezy Point on Country Highway 4. Strong winds uprooted trees and caused damage in Breezy Point, Pequot Lakes, Jenkins and Lake Shore early Wednesday morning. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch Gallery and Video2 / 4
Breezy Point resident Maurice Balder sorts through the contents of a shed Wednesday after strong winds ripped the roof off and a tree dropped through its middle. Residents of northern Crow Wing and southeastern Cass counties were hit with the storm bringing wind and hail early Wednesday morning. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch Video and Gallery3 / 4
Allen Witt cuts a tree Wednesday while homeowner Roger Theis prepares to catch the log on the roof of his home on Lakeshore Drive in Breezy Point. Strong winds uprooted trees and caused damage early Wednesday morning to several communities in northern Crow Wing County and southeastern Cass County. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch Video and Gallery4 / 4

Thousands of Brainerd lakes area residents were without power early Wednesday after a line of powerful thunderstorms rolled across the region.

The storm, which hit the area about 1:30 a.m., also downed numerous trees. The National Weather Service in Duluth received reports of multiple trees down in Nisswa, Aitkin, Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point, Crosslake, Fifty Lakes and Jenkins. Hail 1.75 inches in diameter was reported in Pine Center in southeastern Crow Wing County. Wind gusts of 58 mph were recorded at a weather station in Jenkins.

Teri Slipy, who lives in Breezy Point, said when the storm hit she at first thought she was hearing hail. She soon learned it was actually a tree falling on her house. At 8 a.m. Wednesday, she was unable to get out of her house as downed trees were blocking her driveway.

"It's amazing," Slipy said. "The trees are uprooted, the roots are as tall as I am. You could see it was straightline winds, the trees are all lying in one direction."

The irony, Slipy noted, is that her daughter, Shawn, is visiting from Naples, Fla., which she left to get away from the Atlantic hurricanes. Shawn's vehicle was damaged Wednesday morning by a falling tree branch.

"It looked like a hurricane," Shawn Slipy said of Wednesday's storm.

As the storm bore down on the Brainerd lakes area, the NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning, at the time noting, based on radar estimates, there was a potential for 70 mph winds. Emergency sirens were activated in Crow Wing County as the weather service further stated the storm had the potential for flying debris as well as expected damage to structures, trees, roofs and vehicles.

John Bowen, Crow Wing County emergency management director, said tree damage was focused primarily in pockets in northern Crow Wing County. In Pequot Lakes, some bus routes were canceled or delayed because of trees blocking roads. He also heard reports of trees damaging cars and houses that were struck by falling trees.

The damage, however, didn't appear extensive and it didn't appear anyone was hurt during the storm.

"I talked with our dispatch center this morning and they said there were no injuries reported," Bowen said. "That's a really good thing."

At its peak, the storm knocked out power for about 4,500 customers, said Char Kinzer, Crow Wing Power public relations manager. By noon Wednesday, the number of Crow Wing Power customers without power shrank to 2,600. Kinzer said the hope is to have all customers restored by Thursday evening.

The extent of the tree damage created slower restoration time and broken poles take longer to repair than stringing wire, Kinzer said.

"We had been relatively lucky this year compared to other years, no getting hit as hard as we had been the past two years," Kinzer said. "It had been relatively light on storms this entire summer."

Minnesota Power also had several thousand customers without power following the storm. Spokeswoman Amy Rutledge said additional crews were called in to restore power.

In Brainerd, about one-third of an inch of rain fell during the storm, and wind gusts of 40 mph were registered at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport but there was little damage reported.

People are reminded to stay clear of downed power lines and report outages to their power company.

While Thursday's forecast calls for sunny skies with a high near 80 degrees, a chance of rain returns Thursday night and is expected to continue through the weekend and into early next week, according to the weather service.

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