Search finds no additional Boundary Waters storm injuries
U.S. Forest Service officials said Wednesday they were fairly confident that no additional campers were in distress in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness after thunderstorms downed many trees and injured a number of people a day earlier.
Crews fanned out across the wilderness by canoe, boat and aircraft late Tuesday into Wednesday and found no additional storm victims, said Becca Manlove, a spokeswoman for the Superior National Forest.
“We still have planes flying today, but we don’t think we have any more injuries out there,” she said.
The search came after downed trees on tents trapped at least nine people in two separate campsites before dawn Tuesday as thunderstorms packing high winds raced across the region. Several of those people had to be evacuated from the wilderness by floatplane or boat, and some remained in area hospitals Wednesday being treated for their injuries.
Manlove said several areas of the wilderness were hard hit by the line of thunderstorms, called a derecho, which appeared to spur localized downbursts of intense wind.
According to reports from crews in the field, “Some of the damage was quite dramatic, with a lot of trees snapped off and tipped over,’’ Manlove told the News Tribune Wednesday. “But the damage appears to be in pockets.”
Some of the hardest hit areas include several bays on Lac La Croix, Loon Lake, Little Long Lake, Ge-Be-On-E-Quet Lake, the Sioux Hustler Trail, Little Gabbro Lake and the Little Isabella and Snake River entry points into the BWCAW.
All wilderness entry points remain open, and Manlove said all portages and campsites are apparently open.
“It may be challenging to get across some portages, but we don’t know of any, as of now, that are impassable,’’ she said, adding that saw crews are moving through the wilderness to remove trees that may be blocking trails or campsites.
In response to the storm, a multi-agency incident management team was formed to ensure other parties are not in need of assistance and to assess storm impacts. Two Forest Service wilderness crews were already in the area of the storm and were redirected to check the safety of BWCAW visitors. Two Forest Service floatplanes flew patrols looking for any other injured parties and to assess the damage. One additional Forest Service crew was dropped off by floatplane to Lac La Croix. A Minnesota State Patrol helicopter was on standby for closer assessments but was not needed. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources used aircraft to help with public safety and storm damage assessments on the Canadian side of the border.
Similar downbursts of very strong wind were reported just west of International Falls and south of Eveleth, where extensive damage occurred early Tuesday.
The damage appears similar, but on a much smaller scale, than the derecho that struck the Superior National Forest on July 4, 1999, downing millions of trees.
Meanwhile, both Minnesota Power and Lake Country Power said Wednesday they were working to restore electricity to the last remaining customers who had lost power in the early Tuesday storms.