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Near misses and close calls

Many locals and tourists viewed the devastation at Bemidji's Diamond Point Park, which was closed after damage sustained in Monday night's storm. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
Elizabeth Edwards, 1704 4th Street SE, records fellow colleague Steve Trudeau as he cuts up a balsam tree that put two branches through her windshield. Going slow helped with their success. The tree took out her father's handicapped ramp on the other side of the pickup. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 2

BEMIDJI - Judy Faymoville was at Paul Bunyan Mall Monday with a friend when the storm hit. The duo was in Kmart, thinking the mall looked empty, "like a ghost town," when a man came up to them and told them they needed to go into the hallway near the mall restrooms to seek shelter.

About 45 minutes later, they drove to Judy's home and found, to her dismay, her favorite tree had crashed down in 80 mph winds.

The huge basswood in her backyard was toppled, having cracked more than halfway down its trunk.

"It was the most beautiful shade tree," she said Tuesday morning, while cleaning up debris from her yard.

She lost other trees, too, including a spruce adjacent to the basswood and a 12-year-old apple tree.

"It just changes the whole complexion of the backyard," said Faymoville, who has lived a dozen years in her home on Donald Avenue Southeast.

She and her friend had been shopping at the mall when they came out of Joanne's Fabrics and saw that Herberger's was closing up. No one said anything so they just kept browsing throughout the mall. It wasn't until they reached Kmart that a man told them about the storm. They were among about 15 or 20 people who sought shelter in the hallway.

"It was a little frightening," Faymoville said.

Favorite spruce

John Thompson said he was driving in the storm, out on an errand for his mom, when he saw a tree fall down on Roosevelt Road, about 50 feet in front of him. He was glad he hadn't been driving any faster.

At his parents' home, also on Donald Avenue, his father's favorite tree, a blue spruce, was uprooted in the storm. His dad, Dennis, had planted the tree when he first moved into the house.

"It's rare to have one so blue," John said. "Usually they're more green."

The tree was uprooted but remains standing at an angle. The family is considering bringing in a crane to replant the tree.

In addition to the blue spruce, the Thompsons lost more than a half-dozen other trees that were snapped or broken in the storm. One fell on top of a vehicle, leaving two dents in the hood and a broken turn signal on the driver's side.

The Fourth of July holiday brought more than 10 visitors to the Thompson home, which was still without power Tuesday afternoon. A globe light in the backyard illuminated their dinner - linguini on the grill - Monday night.

Tania Malagon was among visiting family members, having come through the storm en route to Bemidji. She said they could barely see through the storm.

"I thought a tornado was coming down," she said. "We couldn't see anything."

'i was shocked'

Marty Svare left home when the storm hit, worried about potential hail damage to his truck. He returned a half-hour later and found substantial tree damage.

Three side-by-side pines were completely uprooted and more than a dozen others were snapped in the winds. Branches were down throughout the yard.

Siding to the home was damaged and one window was broken.

Svare, who has lived in his Miles Avenue home for 15 years, said he lost a few trees in a storm last year, but never before experienced a storm like Monday's at his current residence.

"I was shocked," he said.

Cleanup of the trees and debris was fully underway by Tuesday morning, thanks to family members who came in from Fergus Falls to help clean up Svare's yard.

"I always wanted more sunshine," he said, looking around at the downed trees. "I guess I got it."

the storm plays out

Turns out the concession stand at the Bemidji State baseball diamond is the perfect place to watch a storm hit.

Then again, it's not like Dan Bennett had many other options.

The BSU assistant baseball coach had been helping out during Bemidji's Legion baseball game against Brainerd Monday night. When the two teams cleared the field and went into Gillett Fitness and Recreation Center for cover, Bennett raced around the field to make sure lights were shut off and doors were closed and locked.

But by the time he had finished, the sky was dark and he had to leap inside the tiny concession stand to avoid the wind and rain.

From there, though, he saw it all.

"It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," he said.

Visibility was low, he said, and sometimes it was tough to see six feet in front of him. But the glimpses that he got looked like something out of the 'Wizard of Oz.'

"At one point, I could see our hitting tunnel move on its own," he said. "Then the hitting shell came up and knocked the tunnel flat before it flew onto the softball field."

Bennett also saw trees from Greenwood Cemetery fly across Paul Bunyan Drive and crash into the outer fence surrounding the field.

The outfield fence partially collapsed, too, but Bennett was more amazed by what didn't fall.

"We came out of the stand when it was done and noticed the scoreboard and grandstand were still up, which is great," he said. "Somehow, the American flag on the flagpole stayed up there and didn't blow away.

"I guess it's just America's week," he said with a laugh.

'falling like toothpicks'

Susan Stember was driving to her home on Stone Lake Road, about 10 miles southwest of Bemidji when the storm hit pretty hard, making it hard for her to see.

"I should have pulled over, but I did not," Stember said. "I thought I could make it into my garage, which is a very foolish mindset."

Stember said when she was driving on U.S. Highway 2 there were a few sprinkles, but as soon as she turned onto Stone Lake Road it became a rain white out, blinding her view of the road.

"I could see the ditches and could see the road that was brown but I didn't know where to pull over because it was bad everywhere," Stember said.

Stember said she noticed that the trees were flailing around. She pulled into her driveway, knowing that trees on either side of it could fall down at any moment. She got to a clearing and stopped, noticing about 25 trees had fallen both in front and behind her vehicle.

"I sat there and wondered if she had a better chance running to the house with trees falling down or sitting in my car in the clearing," Stember said.

Her husband, Larry, sat with her on the phone, peering out the window at the car.

"He said, 'Stay where you are, they are falling like toothpicks,'" she recalled Tuesday.

After cringing a few times as trees fell around the car, Larry told his wife to make a run for it.

"I ran, hopping over fallen trees and branches along the way," Stember said. "For anyone who knows me, they know I am not very athletic but I did make it."

Stember said their 40-acre lot lost nearly 25 percent of its trees in the storm, which is a shame since her son Sevve Stember and his fiancée Andrea Smith are set to be married there in August.

feeling fortunate

Bob Weber was out Tuesday morning assessing damage on his property at 2224 Birchmont Drive NE.

Weber, who has lived on the property for 60 years, said this is the first time he has lost trees since a storm about eight years ago caused a tree to fall onto his house.

Weber's house survived the storm, but two trees in his back yard were uprooted, tipping over eastward, toward the lake.

Weber said he spent about 2½ hours cleaning up last night, untangling a cable wire from branches of a fallen tree in the front yard.

"The big concern in our neighborhood is on both sides there are trees over the power lines that could lose electrical," Weber said.

Just down the block from Weber, Bess Kuryla, was out working in her garden, waiting for a tree leaning against the cable wire to get taken away. Kuryla is concerned about the plants around the base of the tree.

"My main concern is I want my sedum to be saved," Kuryla said. "Everyone is laughing at me but I don't dare dig it. Those are my babies."

Kuryla admitted she is very fortunate compared to other people who had trees fall on top of their homes.

"I really, really was fortunate," Kuryla said. "I called Wood Chucks Tree Service and they asked if they wanted to get it done right away and I said no, mine isn't that important, get the trees off of people's houses first."

Al and Cheryl Yarnott of 1520 Calihan Ave. were in their neighborhood helping neighbors saw branches and clear the yards and the street.

Tarutis Paul, who lives just down the street from the Yarnott family, said they are all fortunate because the trees all seemed to fall east toward the lake, avoiding the houses in the neighborhood.

"Most of the trees have fallen this way," Paul said. "There are some spots where there were some swirling winds," Paul said. "Thank goodness it's just a little bit of work. In about a year you will just see some stumps and hopefully we will be good for another 30 to 40 years of tree growing."


Jack Hittinger contributed to this article.