Cambridge asks for patience as clean-up efforts are underway

Rachel Kytonen

Straight line winds reportedly up to 80 miles per hour, combined with torrential rain and hail, took down hundreds of trees and utility poles during a storm that rumbled through the area Friday evening, July 1.

The hardest hit area in Isanti County was the city of Cambridge, particularly in the northwest area and southwest areas of the city. The storm left hundreds of fallen trees and utility poles in its path, and homes sustained minor to moderate damage. A car along N. Cypress St. was demolished when a tree fell on top of it, and a homeowner’s shed along Hwy. 95 on the east side of Cambridge was flattened.

On a positive note, Cambridge Mayor Marlys Palmer reported there were no fatalities, and only seven residents were treated and released for minor injuries.

Hundreds of trees within Cambridge were lost due to a storm that hit the area on Friday evening, July 1. This home, located near Cambridge City Park along 2nd Ave. S.W., was barely visible due to all the downed trees near the home. Photo by Jon Tatting/North Branch Post Review

“It was a terrifying, devastating and damaging storm, but to say we were lucky seems like an understatement,” Palmer said during the Cambridge City Council meeting Tuesday, July 5. “I’m so impressed on how we got things taken care of so quickly. But we are asking for the citizens’ patience as we work through the clean-up efforts.”

East Central Energy, which serves more than 57,000 homes, farms and businesses in east central Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, reported approximately 30 percent of their service area lost power Friday evening, and broken and toppled trees took down hundreds of power lines and shattered over 100 poles across the system.

ECE workers worked to restore power throughout the holiday weekend, and as of Wednesday morning, July 6, about 800 members remained without electricity, that included 234 in Chisago County, 153 in Isanti County, and 153 in Pine County.

Employees from nine other electric cooperatives, three construction contractors and six tree contractors have been assisting ECE crews.

“We thank members for their patience, and we truly empathize with the inconvenience of being without power,” said President/CEO Steve Shurts in press release. “As soon as the storm hit, ECE activated its emergency response plan, using all its resources and calling in outside help. Because of the extensive damage and the large areas affected, repairs are more complicated than expected.”

Cambridge Public Works Director Steve Wegwerth said 11 roll-off dumpsters, provided by East Central Sanitation, have been placed in the hardest-hit areas around town.

Residents that have downed trees should place the trees curbside or in one of the roll-off dumpsters that are being placed throughout town. City staff will be removing debris from boulevards within the next few days, and are asking residents to not put garbage or household debris in the roll-offs. The city will not haul away any tree trunks bigger than 10 inches in diameter. The city can eventually take logs and stumps separately, but this will be done after most of the brush clean-up is done.

City Administrator Lynda Woulfe said clean-up efforts are estimated between $20,000 to $25,000.

Wegwerth said immediately following the storm, clean-up efforts were underway, and 15 companies have offered their services to the city, so he will call on those resources as needed.

Wegwerth said homeowners who don’t have the ability to cut up the trees themselves, can contact city hall who has a list of volunteers who will help those residents. City Hall also has a listing of names from people who will haul away the wood, but Wegwerth noted that is a private situation between the parties. City Hall will only provide the names and contact listings.

Wegwerth asked homeowners to not haul the debris to the city’s brush site, which opened up on Tuesday morning. Wegwerth said due to the city receiving nearly 5 inches of rain in such a short time frame, it saturated the grounds. He said the saturated grounds were also a factor in why so many trees uprooted so easily.

The entire council thanked city staff, as well as emergency responders for their prompt efforts.

“Steve [Wegwerth], your entire department, and the police and fire departments did an awesome job, and you should be very proud,” noted Councilor Lisa Iverson.

Woulfe noted only one person wasn’t able to stay in their home as a result of a gas line break. She also mentioned Building Inspector Jeff Pleski was out Friday evening and throughout the weekend doing inspections and making sure homes and buildings were safe.

Palmer thanked her fellow council members for their support at emergency preparedness meetings, and for their support to fund an emergency operations center within City Hall. Palmer said the emergency team was activated Friday evening until Saturday afternoon.

“I kept saying to folks on the first day the state closes down, the winds chose to come up,” Palmer said. “I want to thank the citizens of Cambridge for all of their actions, and the steps they took to make sure themselves and their neighbors were safe. I saw a lot of people out there checking on neighbors and making sure everyone was safe and secure.”

Palmer particularly noted the efforts of the Cambridge police, fire and public works departments; mutual aid efforts from Dalbo and Braham; Isanti County Sheriff’s Department; Isanti County Safety & Rescue; Allina; East Central Sanitation; East Central Energy and city staff.

“I also want to thank the citizens for all they did to help each other, their neighbors and their community,” Palmer said.


Other areas hit

Regionally, the storm also affected the Stark, Harris and Rush City areas, where most trees fell harmlessly to the ground. Other trees, along with the wind itself, caused much property damage to vehicles, buildings and utilities.

One towering tree at 85 W. 7th St. in Rush City crushed a garage near the home, just south of the Golden LivingCenter nursing home. One resident who lives there recalled the sky turning dark, then green, before she headed to the basement. The power was out for about three minutes, she said.

In Burnett County, near Grantsburg, Wis., lightning killed an 11-year old girl from Hinckley, and reportedly 40 others suffered storm-related injuries in that area.

Additional reporting by Jon Tatting, ECM Post Review, North Branch