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WATCH: Storms bring widespread wind damage to northern Minnesota

Severe thunderstorms roared through parts of the Northland like a hurricane early Thursday, downing trees and power lines across the region. As of 10 a.m., more than 70,000 customers were without power. The Duluth Fire Department advised no trave...

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Severe thunderstorms roared through parts of the Northland like a hurricane early Thursday, downing trees and power lines across the region.

As of 10 a.m., more than 70,000 customers were without power. The Duluth Fire Department advised no travel in the city of Duluth until later in the day because of downed trees and power lines. "There are multiple lines down ... and many streets remain blocked. Please refrain from traveling until later in the morning if at all possible," the Duluth Fire Department reported as of just before 5 a.m. Other communities were reporting downed and low-hanging power lines that could be a danger to drivers and passersby.

"Property owners are advised to not be cutting trees on roadways or on private property until power lines are secured by Minnesota Power. We have several reports of downed lines intertwined with downed trees," the fire department reported.

The St. Louis County Sheriff's Office also advised no unnecessary travel in the county.

"If travel is needed, stay away from down power lines, be patient, allow yourself extra time to get to your destination, and drive in a cautious manner due the debris and workers trying to clear the area roadways. Keep in mind that with the power outages, traffic control devices may not be operating. Please treat all intersections as a four way stop to guarantee the safety of others."

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"Holy-moly," gasped Woodland neighborhood resident Rachel Barbot, surveying tree damage at her home Thursday morning. "A lot less privacy from the neighbors now."

She had just returned from an overnight shift at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center, where she works on the obstetrics floor.

"It was busy," Barbot said. "When the pressure changed with the storm, a lot of women went into labor."

Electricity is out across much of the eastern half of the city, including Kenwood, Mount Royal, Woodland Avenue and the Hillside, with most businesses in those areas unable to open as of 8 a.m. A number of power lines were down on the ground under the weight of uprooted or snapped-off trees, and officials are warning people to stay away from any lines.

Minnesota Power reported about 39,500 customers without power from 600 individual outages as of 10 a.m., in Duluth and across the region. Lake Country Power reported about 24,000 customers without power as of 10 a.m., from 350 outages.

Xcel Energy reported about 9,000 customers without power in its service area in Northwestern Wisconsin as of 10 a.m.

The outages were affecting the Duluth antenna farm, knocking most if not all Duluth TV and radio station off the air.

Power also is out at the city’s main Lakewood water pumping station, which means no new water is being pumped into the city’s massive reservoir and water tower system.

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Duluth city officials are asking all residents to conserve water as much as possible.

“We have no power at the main pumping station in Lakewood still and no power at most lift stations. We understand it’s a hot day but we want to ensure there is adequate water in the city for emergency situations," said Pakou Ly, city communications director.

Most main streets appeared passable by 8 a.m. but many side streets, avenues, alleys and driveways remain blocked.

City and private tree service crews were out as early as 5 a.m. trying to clear the main arteries and remove trees that had crashed on people's homes.

“It’s like a snowstorm. We clear the main drags first and then work our way down. All we can do is clear the road right of way and clean up and move on. We don’t have time to help people open up their driveways," said Doug Rosas, who was working a chainsaw for the city’s parks Maintenance Department. “We’ve been at it since 5 a.m. We’ll eventually get to the side streets and the alleys, but it’s going to take a long time.”

People can report downed trees on city streets, trails or sidewalks to 730-HELP (4357). People can leave messages and specify the location along with the caller’s contact information. The city crews are working to clear debris to ensure emergency vehicles have access to neighborhoods.

Crews said Woodland, Lakeside and parts of downtown appeared hardest-hit.

Chuck Richards said the storm woke his family up and they were closing windows in their downstairs when they heard a big crash. A giant black walnut tree had uprooted and toppled onto, or more like into, their home.

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“It went through the roof about two feet from where I sleep,’’ Richards said. He was the first victim of the storm to call Rick’s Tree Service “at about 5 a.m.” and was among the first to have a crew working to remove the tree by 8 a.m.

Elias Trigas and his family along Arrowhead Road were awakened by the noise of storm's powerful wind. They were in the basement when a large ash tree fell across their driveway, blocking access to the street. Trigas was busy with a chainsaw at 7 a.m. to clear the way so he and his wife could get to work.

“The storm was just on top of us like that. We got downstairs as fast as we could. It was pretty intense there for a few minutes,... what a mess,’’ he said. “I wish I would have got the new chain on here when I could have.”

Closures

The University of Minnesota Duluth and College of St. Scholastica are closed today because power is out. The Duluth school district's programs are canceled today.

The Duluth Transit Authority reported that there are service disruptions in the Woodland neighborhood and in areas east of 21st Avenue East because of downed trees blocking roads.

There is widespread tree damage across the region. In downtown Duluth, a number of trees were damaged or downed in the Civic Center, and street lights and traffic lights had been knocked over by winds that the National Weather Service had reported might reach 60 to 80 mph as the storms rolled through at about 3:30 a.m. Newspaper boxes had blown over and out onto First Street near the News Tribune offices.

The canopy of the Holiday gas station at the corner of Rice Lake and Arrowhead roads was partly torn apart by the winds.

Major tree damage was evident in parts of Rice Lake just north of Duluth, where trees had fallen into the driving lanes of Martin Road. Side roads were completely blocked, with trees hung up in power lines. Multiple roads were blocked by downed trees in Lakewood Township to the northeast of Duluth.

There also was tree damage in the Woodland and Lakeside neighborhoods in Duluth -- London Road was closed for a time because of downed trees, according to scanner reports -- and traffic was having to navigate around downed trees throughout the neighborhoods as of 7:30 a.m.

The Ely Police Department reported that power was out in most of the area, and city crews were heading out to clean downed trees and debris.

Weather spotters reported winds of up to 70 mph at the Moondance Jam music festival near Walker as storms moved through earlier this morning, the Weather Service reported. Downed trees were reported in the Big Falls area of Koochiching County as storms moved through just before 1 a.m.

Trees were reported down across the Brainerd Lakes region. A 72 mph wind gust was reported near Lake Winnibigoshish just before 2 a.m.

To the west, Beltrami County Emergency Management reported dozens of trees down and widespread power outages in the Bemidji area

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