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Aitkin County assesses Wednesday storm damage

Sheriff Dan Guida said they’ll work to rebuild damaged buildings in time for the county fair

Building debris litters the ground
An Aitkin County fair building lies in ruins after a Wednesday, May 11, 2022, storm brought damaging winds to the area.
Contributed / Sheriff Dan Guida
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AITKIN — Wind creates strange damage patterns at times and the storm cells that went through Aitkin County were a prime example.

The wind picked up in the late afternoon across the lakes region but the most severe damage from the storm fronts Wednesday, May 12, hit the Aitkin area. After 4:30 p.m., the wind gusts hit, downing privacy fences across the city and just north of Aitkin. Toppled trees damaged a building, crashed on a car, blocked roads and knocked out power lines.

At the Aitkin County Fairgrounds there were three new buildings in a row. One had its door blown in with some damage to items stored inside. The second building was untouched. The third building was destroyed.

The Aitkin County sheriff’s boat and water building, which is used to store equipment, was flattened. Reached by phone, Sheriff Dan Guida said the wind pulled the roof off the storage building and pulled the green auger system off the feed store roof in town. Some of the steel blew off the room of the fire department’s beer garden without causing too much damage, but then the wind blew off all the steel from the Lions’ building.

“Those winds can do some crazy things,” Guida said.

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Wind destroyed building.
Wind destroys Aitkin County Sheriff's Department's storage building late Wednesday afternoon, May 11, 2022. The building housed boats, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and other emergency equipment.
Contributed / Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida

Guida said they saw a couple of little spouts at the bottom of the storm cell that gave the appearance of the start of funnel clouds but nothing actually came down to form a tornado. “But the winds were very, very strong,” Guida said.

A report to the National Weather Service in Duluth Wednesday during the storm reported winds at 70 mph.

“You know, it's really hard to estimate wind,” Guida said. “Bags that were flying by on the street were going 40 miles an hour so they were passing cars.”

The final cost of the damage and repairs to the fairgrounds is still being calculated. At the boat and water storage building, vehicles stored inside — from boats to all-terrain vehicles, a truck, snowmobiles and generators — were mainly scratched and dented with windows or protective screens shattered. One snowmobile was smashed and other equipment sustained damage. The storage building itself was sizable but is a total loss.

“It's flat,” Guida said. “There's nothing really salvageable from it.”

At the fairgrounds buildings, which include winter storage, a pontoon was blown on its side.

A building is flattened and in pieces
The Aitkin County Sheriff's Department storage building is flattened after a storm moved through Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
Contributed / Aitkin County Sheriff Dan Guida

Thankfully, Guida said, no one was in the buildings and everyone was safe.

“The plan is to obviously rebuild them and get them back,” Guida said of the public buildings and hopefully get them done by fair time, which in recent years has been in July. Last year had a robust return to the fair after events were canceled during the pandemic.

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Guida said last year’s fair was probably one of the highest attended fairs they’ve ever had.

“And so, we’re hoping to have another great event this year,” Guida said. “So we’ve got some work to do.”

Thursday afternoon, with the second round of predicted storms, Aitkin County already had reports of small hail. Guida said they are hoping the tree damage will be limited to the losses from Wednesday.

“Ironically, we’ve had two Skywarn weather spotter classes in Aitkin County this year,” Guida said of the classes, which are hosted by the National Weather Service. The classes train people on what to watch for with severe weather and provide numerous ways to report what they see. Guida said they purchased 100 weather radios and all are now out in the county.

“And we are getting lots of great reports from people out in the communities,” Guida said. “That’s a benefit for us. We can kind of keep an eye on these storms that aren’t high enough for the radar to kind of find.”

The National Weather Service announced there was a chance for storms in two waves, Wednesday and Thursday. But the damaging winds Wednesday seemed to blow up suddenly and specifically with force when the storm moved through Aitkin County. Guida said it seemed like a real low storm that didn’t set off alarms as it ripped through north of Crosby on its way to Aitkin. Guida said they were able to get the alarms sounded and get McGregor students, who were on buses sitting outside, back into the school building where they were safe.

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“For the most part, it was pretty isolated little pockets of hard wind that knocked trees over,” Guida said. “...But, all in all, considering the amount of energy there was at the fairgrounds, the rest of the county fared pretty well.”

With rainfall, they are also keeping an eye on the Mississippi River at Aitkin where minor flooding was already occurring. The river appeared to have crested and was beginning to recede before rising again.

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“So we’re concerned about that but we’re watching it, Guida said. “I think we’ve got a really good crew out there.”

Guida said the Aitkin city departments were on top of it Wednesday night.

“They did a great job,” he said, noting crews responded within minutes after power poles were knocked down to make sure everyone was safe.

“I’m glad it was daylight,” Guida said of the storm’s weekday timing.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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