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Another round of severe storms sweeps across the Northland

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DULUTH -- Lake Country Power crews were hard at work in the Northland on Wednesday, chipping away at a mountain of outages left by severe weather earlier this week, when Mother Nature dealt the utility and the region another round of damaging storms.

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This time it was areas north of the Iron Range eastward toward Ely and the Boundary Waters that appeared to take the brunt of the holiday afternoon storms. There were numerous reports of trees down, and 2,000 Lake Country Power customers were without electricity as of Wednesday evening.

That's on top of about 7,500 of the utility's members still without power late Wednesday after Monday's storms in Itasca County and the surrounding area.

"We've been ravaged," Lake Country Power spokesman Mike Birkeland said. "And it's not just for our distribution system, but also for our members" in the Northland and the damage to homes, cabins and boats they have endured.

"It's going to take time" to restore power to everyone, he said, "and when (storms) pile up on top of each other it makes it all the harder."

Wednesday's storms moved into the Northland from the west shortly after noon. One line of storms formed a bow shape, with damaging winds, and swept across the Ely area about 3:30 p.m.

Northern Lights Lodge between Babbitt and Ely lost some shingles and more than a dozen trees, some of them large pines, said owner Marie Vogt.

"I'd say we had some straight-line winds again," she said. "But the trees didn't land on any buildings. It could have been much worse."

Carl Skustad, acting district ranger for the Superior National Forest's Kawishiwi Ranger District in the Ely area, said there was moderate storm damage in the area from Ely eastward along the Fernberg Road.

Forest Service fire crews and recreation crews were deployed with chain saws to clear fallen trees from access roads to campgrounds, he said -- work that was done by Wednesday evening. More damage assessment will be conducted today, he said. There were no immediate reports of issues for people out in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Wednesday's storms came on the 13th anniversary of the massive 1999 blowdown that leveled thousands of acres of forest in the BWCAW.

Other storm reports relayed by the National Weather Service on Wednesday afternoon included several 1½-foot-diameter trees downed 15 miles southeast of Ely; and two funnel clouds spotted near Wirt in Itasca County.

Itasca County is where many of Lake Country Power's crews were at work on the Fourth of July holiday. At least three other utility co-ops -- from Two Harbors, Braham and Ramsey, Minn. -- had shared crews with Lake Country to restore outages that number more than 11,000 right after Monday evening's storms, Birkeland said. In some cases two crews were needed in the same area -- one to clear trees, and the other to work on downed lines.

Minnesota Power reported only scattered power outages in its coverage area as of Wednesday night.

Wednesday night storms

Additional rounds of storms moved across the Northland on Wednesday night. While the Twin Ports was largely spared from any rain as crowds gathered for holiday celebrations, the Brainerd area and points west were under tornado warnings at times.

Weather spotters reported funnel clouds, but no tornado touchdowns had been reported as of 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Ping-pong-ball sized hail and 2-foot-diameter trees down were reported on the north shore of Mille Lacs Lake in Aitkin County at 8:15 p.m.

An urban and small stream flood advisory was issued late Wednesday, to be in effect through early this morning, for areas south and west of the Twin Ports. The National Weather Service reported that rainfall rates from evening storms reached 2 inches an hour at times in the Brainerd, Aitkin and McGregor areas.

News Tribune reporter Jana Hollingsworth contributed to this report.

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