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Strong winds knocked down thousands of trees Monday night. This photo shows a blowdown area south of Bemidji, near the Beltrami-Hubbard line west of Rosby. Christopher Muller | Beltrami County Sheriff's Office

Bird's eye view of damage: Assistant Beltrami County emergency management director gets unique perspective

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI - Before Monday's storm, Christopher Muller, the assistant Beltrami County emergency management director, had never flown.

On Tuesday, he boarded a Minnesota State Patrol helicopter for a fly-over of the area, allowing him a birds' eye view of the damage left in the wake of a storm packing winds of 80 mph or more.

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The flyover gave him a unique perspective of the storm's destruction.

"Personally it was pretty exciting because I had never flown in anything before," Muller said. "I had never left the ground but it was quite the experience just in terms of seeing the sharp contrast in terms of what it looked like in the air versus what it looks like on the ground."

Muller and the rest of the Emergency Management team have had a long week dealing with storm damage. Muller said the storms just added to what they had already anticipated being a busy week because of the Fourth of July holiday.

"The storms kind of complicated and compounded everything," Muller said.

Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp requested a flight in the Minnesota State Patrol Helicopter because it gave them a chance to better assess the damage and realize how wide spread it was.

"On the ground level everyone was in agreement that there was a lot of damage," Muller said. "From the air it gave a whole new perspective, seeing entire forests that were laid down like grass."

Another reason for the air assessment was that the Emergency Management had seen areas on the ground that were not consistent with the west to east to west lay down that a majority of the trees had followed.

Because of this, there was speculation that there could have been a tornado that caused the trees to fall in other directions, but Muller said from the air it was clear that a vast majority of the trees had fallen to the east and there was no evidence of a tornado.

Muller credits the hard work of the city and county crews as well as the citizens who have been working hard to clean up the damage. He said the damage from the air would have been even greater had he flown Monday right after the storm or early Tuesday morning, before the work had started. Muller said it is the worst storm damage he has seen in the county since a blow down in 1995.

"I was surprised at how long the duration there was," Muller said. "It was a very long lived storm. From the ground you can only see the damage that you can access by road but from the air you can see all the timber and forests."

Muller said the heaviest damage was from just above the Grant Valley Township area in the southwestern part of the county and then it moved up towards Bemidji and passed into Cass County toward Cass Lake.

"If you went up high enough and had a picture from a high enough altitude you could take a ruler and draw a line right along where the heavy damage was," Muller said.

Muller and the rest of the Emergency Management crews have worked a lot of long hours this week and they continue to look for volunteers who want to help.

Emergency Manager Director Beryl Wernberg said the hotline has received good responses, with people calling in frequently for help. She said volunteers have been very helpful in helping crews clean up debris.

"We are trying to get people that are willing to help in contact with those that need help," Muller said.

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