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Northland storm update: Crews making progress in restoring power, but a lot of work remains

A power pole and power lines are down along Glenwood Street at Lakewood Covenant Church in Duluth on Thursday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

Utility crews are making progress in restoring power to thousands of homes and businesses across the Northland in the wake of Thursday morning's severe storms - but there's a lot of work yet to be done.

Combined, the three largest power companies in the Northland -- Minnesota Power, Lake Country Power and Xcel Energy -- reported about 47,700 customers without electricity as of 8 a.m.

That's down from about 54,000 at 8 p.m. Thursday, and down from more than 75,000 at the peak of the storm aftermath.

Minnesota Power estimated that a third of the Duluth’s 65,000 customers were without power at one point Thursday morning — the worst storm to affect the city’s electrical grid in 15 years, since the April 2001 ice storm. About 100 power poles were damaged by the storm and will need to be replaced, Minnesota Power reported, in addition to many more downed lines.

By mid-afternoon, Minnesota Power announced that it had restored power to about 19,000 of the 46,000 customers whose service had been disrupted by the storm. By day's end, the company predicts power will be returned to most customers in areas outside of Duluth, Cloquet, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Waler and Tower.

But Minnesota Power reported that it will continue to work through the weekend to re-establish electrical connections to hard-hit Duluth neighborhoods, including some rural pockets of the city.

For homes and buildings that have sustained damage to their electric service meters or masts, those components will need to be repaired by a qualified electrical contractor before Mnnesota Power can restore service.

For many in Duluth and the region, the Thursday night routine unexpectedly included candles and flashlights; impromptu feasts to use up refrigerated food before it spoiled; and finding new ways to accomplish everyday tasks made difficult by the lack of power and, for some rural residents, a lack of well water.

But Minnesota Power reported that it will continue to work through the weekend to re-establish electrical connections to hard-hit Duluth neighborhoods, including some rural pockets of the city.

For many in Duluth and the region, the Thursday night routine unexpectedly included candles and flashlights; impromptu feasts to use up refrigerated food before it spoiled; and finding new ways to accomplish everyday tasks made difficult by the lack of power and, for some rural residents, a lack of well water.

Minnesota Power had 40 lineworkers out working on repairs Thursday in the city of Duluth. They’ll be joined by 90 more Friday— some from as far away as Missouri.

Minnesota Power spokeswoman Amy Rutledge said people should stay away from power lines because as crews work to restore the system, lines that aren’t energized could go live.

Outside of Duluth, “this could be long haul, a couple days, maybe longer,” said Tami Zaun, a spokeswoman for Lake Country Power. “We’re working quickly and safely as we can.”

“It is a tangled mess out there,” Zaun said Thursday. “We’ve had a lot of storms this summer but last night was by far the worst and most widespread.”

The outages affected the Duluth antenna farm, knocking most Duluth TV and radio station off the air for varying lengths of time. Some were still off the air as of Friday morning.

Power also was out at the city’s main Lakewood water pumping station for much of the day, which meant no new water was being pumped into the city’s massive reservoir and water tower system. Duluth city officials on Thursday had asked all residents to conserve water as much as possible; power was restored to the pumping station by Thursday night.

The University of Minnesota Duluth campus is closed Friday, the second straight day, because power is out.

The Duluth school district has canceled programs Friday at four school sites bexause of power outages: Homecroft, Lester Park, Lowell and Lakewood; the district offices also are closed.

Cooling centers have been set up in Duluth, Superior and other communities to help those affected by the power outages and the forecast heat; temperatures in the Northland are forecast to climb to near 90 degrees today.

Duluth debris

The city of Duluth has established a drop-off site at at the former police firing range -- on Rice Lake Road, north of Marshall School -- for tree limbs, brush and other vegetation that required removal following the storm. The site will accept storm debris free of charge from residents who haul it to the site. City staff will be on hand from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily starting today, July 22, through Sunday, July 24. The city will accept only storm-damaged trees and other vegetation. Any household garbage or other items will be turned away.

Rice Lake tree and brush drop-off

The city of Rice Lake has established a collection point for trees and brush downed by Thursday's storms. Starting Friday, residents of Rice Lake can drop off trees and brush, free of charge, at the southeast corner of the Rice Lake Road and Martin Road. It's the vacant lot directly south of the Sunset Bar and Grill. Collection times are from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The collection point will be available for the next 60 days. Only brush and trees will be accepted; no construction material or garbage.

Check back for storm updates.

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