Storm cleanup expected to take at least a week
BEMIDJI - Cleanup from Monday evening's storm is expected to take at least a week. Diamond Point and Library parks are closed to the public at this time as the storm, bringing winds in excess of 80 mph, hit Bemidji and surrounding areas hard.
City crews worked 16 hours Tuesday night and were on pace to work 12-hour days Tuesday. The first priority is clearing roadways and working with power companies to remove downed trees and branches from power lines.
Between 3,100 and 3,200 Otter Tail Power customers remained without electricity Tuesday morning, according to the power company.
Homeowners working to clear their yards of trees and debris have two options for disposing of their yard waste. They can either pile the logs and wood 2-3 feet back from the curb, otherwise if they are able, they can haul the leftovers themselves to a city drop-off site at the Rako Yard on Rako Street, located west of the police training facility back behind Lueken's Village Foods South. The dropoff site will be open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, including on Independence Day Wednesday.
Craig Gray, city engineer, said wood and logs are welcome at the site, but "root balls" cannot be accepted as the city plans to chip the entire pile once collection is complete.
He asked homeowners to also take time during yard cleanup to clean off the stormwater catch baisns located along the curbs near driveways. Some are buried 2 to 4 inches in debris.
"If it rains, we don't want flooding situations," Gray said at a press conference Tuesday morning at Bemidji City Hall.
Homeowners cleaning the debris and piling it along the roadway are asked to keep it off of the street and to have all collection complete by 8 a.m. Monday, July 9.
"We really need everyone to keep that stuff out of the street," Gray said.
Gray said the main priority now is working to clear roadways of downed trees and to work with the power companies to restore power to area residents. The second phase of cleanup will focus on alleys and then, starting perhaps Monday, city crews will begin going through neighborhoods to gather residents' wood and logs.
"Once we do your street, we will not be coming back a second time," Gray said.
Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp advised homeowners who are cleaning their yards to do so carefully, stating that the only fatality from last year's Hennepin County tornado was a man who had a heart attack while cleaning his yard afterward.
Diamond Point Park, one of Bemidji's cornerstone parks, was badly damaged in the storm. More than half of the trees were impacted by the straight-line winds.
"Diamond Point Park is closed until further notice," Gray said. "(It has) a lot of downed trees, a lot of work to do."
Police Chief Mike Mastin asked, too, that the public stay away from the Bemidji Jaycees' tent at the Lake Bemidji waterfront, which was damaged by falling trees. The tent is planned to be taken down.
"They do plan on continuing the Watern Carnvival this evening if they get everything up and running," he said.
The curfew that was put in place Monday night has been lifted. Mastin said he did not expect that it would be put back in place.
Mastin said power companies are "working diligently" toward getting power back to the region by the end of the day Tuesday.
Ninety percent of the city lost power at some point, Mastin said.
Officials urged the public to continue being cautious, particularly with power lines. As they are re-electrified, they again can become dangerous.
Bemidij Fire Chief Dave Hoefer said fire crews called for help Monday from other other departments, including Solway, Kelliher, Lakeport and Lake George. The department received 38 calls for service in three hours, including calls for small fires.
Small fires are possible again now that the powerlines are being re-energized, he noted.
City Manager John Chattin noted that the city's water and sewer operations remain operational.
The region has not been declared by FEMA to be an emergency zone, but in case it is, Mastin said Beltrami County Emergency Management advises the public to take photos of the damage and to keep a written record of the cost and time spent in cleaning up the damage. Homeowners should call their insurance companies and retain all information in case FEMA does get involved.
Emergency Management also is seeking volunteers with chainsaws who are willing to assist those unable to clear their yards of downed trees. Mastin said there are elderly residents who are unable to leave thei rhomes because their driveways are blocked by trees. To volunteer, call 333-9111.