Tornado hits south of Downtown

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August 17, 2009 // UPDATED 2:47 pm - August 19, 2009
By: Downtown Journal staff
Downtown Journal staff

Morning after storm, 800 still without power

A tornado touched down Wednesday afternoon in south Minneapolis near 38th Street and 4th Avenue, according to Minneapolis Fire Department personnel.

Station 17, at 330 E. 38th Street, reported the twister around 2 p.m. No injuries were reported, but power lines were down and other debris littered the area.

Tornado witness Charles Johnson was with his family in their home at 36th Street and Portland Avenue around 2 p.m. when the power went out. When he stepped outside to check his electricity meter, he saw a thick, grey swirling mass moving toward him from the east.

"I knew exactly what it was and the first thing I thought of was safety, so I took my family in the basement," Johnson said.

He said the tornado passed in a matter of seconds, tearing off half the shingles on his roof and ripping huge branches from nearby trees. 

"What we're hearing is a lot of reports of trees down in South Minneapolis," city spokesman Matt Laible said.

Streets that were closed as crews worked to clear debris have been reopened. Police and fire department crews, as well as city inspections staff, in the affected area completed a door-to-door search for victims, Laible said.

Tom Hoen, a spokesman for Xcel Energy, said Thursday morning that there were still about 800 power outages in South Minneapolis, down from a peak of about 7,300 outages reported throughout the Twin Cities on Wednesday. Reports included downed power lines and poles.

The high concentration of homes in the area slowed down some of Xcel's repair operations, he said.

"It's not exactly conducive to rolling in with bucket trucks," Hoen said.

If the weather stays calm, though, all power could be back up by noon, he said.

The Minneapolis Convention Center sustained about 1,800 square feet of roof damage, as well as some water and other minor property damage. Third Avenue South between 12th and 16th streets is closed until further notice.

Next door to the center, Central Lutheran Church, 333 S. 12th St., also sustained damage: The cross atop its steeple was bent almost 180 degrees downward.

Jeffrey Wilson was standing outside smoking with a friend at 2nd Avenue South & 9th Street during the storm. They were under the skyway linking the building with the TCF Tower.

"All of a sudden we heard a bunch of noise and ducked out of the cove to see what was going on and this huge gust of wind came out from St. Olaf's parking lot. It blew the fences over and the signs. I looked up in the sky and there was debris floating," he said.

Reports indicated the Electric Fetus, 2000 4th Ave. S., was affected, too. It was forced to close early, and a message posted on the store's Twitter feed at 6:39 p.m. said it planned to stay closed through at least Thursday.

Whittier resident Emily Joseph, who lives a few blocks from the store, reported heavy wind and rain but little visible damage near her building.

The city is offering a tree debris collection service for residents in the most damaged areas.

Minneapolis Public Works and Park Board crews will collect large debris starting Friday through Aug. 26 for properties in the area bordered by 2nd Avenue South and Columbus Avenue South, from 35th to 52nd Street.

Here are tips for preparing debris for collection:
— Move larger debris pieces to the boulevard area in front of your house;
— Do not park vehicles near the debris;
— Call 311 for help in clearing debris in alleyways;
— Property owners outside the area mentioned above should call 311; and
— After Aug. 26, property owners can use the city's regular yard waste services to get rid of smaller debris items (limbs that are less than 3 inches in diameter, are cut less than 3 feet long, and bundled with rope or twine).