Severe storm causes heavy damage in Owatonna
Workers spent Friday cleaning up in portions of Steele County after a destructive storm roared through the region Thursday night.
The National Weather Service has determined that as many as 10 tornadoes hit parts of Southern Minnesota, including the northern edge of Steele County. Officials say an EF1 tornado hit the Medford area. EF1 packs winds between 86 and 110 mph.
Owatonna experienced significant damage during the intense storm in portions of the city, leaving about 4,300 homes without power for hours and some even days. Mark Fritsch, general manager of Owatonna Public Utilities, said about 45 homes were without power the entire weekend before finally being restored Monday morning.
The outages represented nearly half of OPU’s 10,000 customers in Owatonna, according to Fritsch. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Fritsch, who has been in the utility business for 40 years.
Thursday’s power outages caused Owatonna Public Schools to cancel classes Friday. However, the school’s homecoming parade and football game still went on without a hitch.
Hundreds of trees were knocked down throughout the city with the worst being in the south and central part of Owatonna. The worst damage was in the neighborhoods east of the downtown area and south of Main Street. Fritsch said the storm cut a path through the city coming up from the south to northeast.
The Steele County fairgrounds are being made available for residents to haul trees and branches for dumping. The city is also offering free curbside pick-up until Oct. 1.
Owatonna mayor Thomas Kuntz lost a 130-year Oak tree in his yard during the storm.
Fritsch said Monday he can’t believe the support that has taken place with residents of Owatonna. “I’ve been amazed with the support we got from the community,” he said, noting some kids wrote thank you notes to OPU’s linemen. “It’s heartwarming.”
He is also aware of cases where residents from other parts of town came into the heavily damaged areas to help others with cleanup. “To see all the negative in the world today and to see the community come together like this, it's very positive,” Fritsch said.
“We’re really blessed that nobody got hurt,” Fritsch said. He added some of the straight-line winds Owatonna experienced last week had more velocity than what smaller tornadoes cause.
Besides the Medford tornado, other tornadoes reportedly hit Ceylon, EF0; Granada, EF1; Janesville-Waterville, EF1; Morristown, EF2; Faribault, EF1; Northfield to Cannon Falls, EF1; Cannon River between Dennison and Stanton, EF1; Southwest Cannon Falls, EF1 and Dundas, EF1. The weather service says the list could be shortened if experts determine that one of the tornadoes hit two areas.
While the list could shorten, weather officials say it could also expand. Experts are still analyzing areas of interest northeast of Owatonna and east of Cannon Falls.
So far, no injuries have been reported in any of the areas.
In Owatonna, the storm snapped nine power poles along 24thAvenue near the Steele County Detention Center. Utility Crews were busy Friday replacing the broken poles with new poles.
OPU received assistance from Blooming Prairie, Austin, Rochester, Shakopee and St. James during the cleanup efforts.
Lynn Holthus, the county’s buildings director, said there was some damage to the jail where siding was ripped off around three penthouses on the roof. He estimates the damage will be under $10,000.
The repairs have yet to be done with the jail until insurance is finalized, Holthus said. “We secured the building so it won’t leak in,” he said.
The storm knocked out power to the jail. A generator kept power running until it was restored around 1 p.m. Friday, according to Holthus.
Sheriff Lon Thiele reported there were no disruptions at the jail attributed to the outage and storm.
The county also lost two trees at the courthouse located in the downtown area. The storm initially took off the tops of the trees, but officials ended up cutting the trees down over the weekend.
“We were very lucky with minimal damage,” Holthus said. “We were fortunate compared to some of the other areas.”