Posted at: 06/21/2013 5:53 AM
Updated at: 06/23/2013 11:57 AM
By: Maricella Miranda
The largest utility serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin says it deployed more than 1,000 line workers to restore power to customers in the Twin Cities and other areas after three waves of strong storms hit the region.
Xcel Energy's system was severely damaged by high winds that brought trees and branches down onto power lines before dawn Friday and on Friday evening and early Saturday. More than 500,000 of the utility's customers in Minnesota and western Wisconsin were affected at the height of the power outages, Xcel Energy said.
Crews with chain saws and residents spent Saturday cleaning up downed wood across the Twin Cities.
Jill Townley, 33, joined forces with neighbors, cleaning up branches from yards and roofs in Minneapolis' power-starved Hiawatha neighborhood.
"The silver maples got it bad, a lot of the tall trees," Townley said.
Minneapolis announced plans for debris collection starting July 1 to help people get rid of the downed wood in their yards. St. Paul planned a similar curbside pickup within the next three weeks.
"The level of power outages caused by this succession of storms is one of the highest we've ever faced," Dave Sparby, president and CEO of Xcel subsidiary Northern States Power-Minnesota, said in a news release.
Kent Larson, senior vice president of operations for Xcel Energy, said Xcel line crews from throughout the Upper Midwest and Colorado were in the field along with crews from other utilities. He said they'll work 16-hours shifts until all power is restored.
The company said in a statement that it expects to restore power to the vast majority of its customers by Wednesday.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed an executive order Saturday to ease restrictions on out-of-state utility trucks coming to help out.
With more storms in the forecast through the weekend and into next week, Hennepin County officials warned that many cities in the county have at least a few severe weather warning sirens that are offline due to power issues. They reminded residents that TV and radio stations and smartphones are all good sources of warning information.
Winds reached as high as 70 mph in Crystal, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Griesinger said, while the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport recorded winds at 58 miles mph.
While flash floodwaters receded early Saturday, Griesinger said the situation had the potential to repeat itself on Saturday night.
"We're still in a position that leaves us very vulnerable to seeing more showers and thunderstorms," Griesinger said.
In western Minnesota, high winds took the top floor off a 130-year-old office building in Ortonville, said Mayor Steve Berkner.
"There's probably about five or six different offices that are in there. ... Basically, that building is a complete loss," he said. "I can't imagine that there would be any way that they could put that thing back together."
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