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Published January 26 2010

Storm leaves thousands without power

A barrage of rain, ice, sleet, snow and wind across the Dakotas and parts of Minnesota left thousands without power, some for up to five days.

Rain-turned-ice froze on power lines, causing outages beginning Thursday. By Monday morning, high winds were snapping tree branches and downing lines.

Service had been restored by mid-Monday to an estimated 2,700 Cass County Electric Co-op and Xcel Energy customers in south Fargo and West Fargo who were without power for between one and three hours Monday morning.

Rural counties in southeast North Dakota saw the brunt of the brutal weather, with severe blizzard conditions making it impossible for many crews to restore service and leaving hundreds without electricity to heat their homes.

About 1,000 Cass County Electric customers were affected by outages throughout the weekend, mostly near Lisbon and Valley City.

Many had power restored within hours, but about 10 customers were without power through Saturday night and part of Sunday morning, said Carrie Joyce, the co-op’s communications coordinator.

At one point on Saturday, Dakota Valley Electric Co-op had 900 customers in southeast North Dakota counties without power because of downed substations, said Energy Management Coordinator Kathy Rysavy.

Near the South Dakota border, at least 60 Dakota Valley customers still had no power Monday evening in western McIntosh County, including Ashley, N.D.

Countless others in the area remained without electricity, as many small towns were affected by widespread outages.

“We’re just at the mercy of the weather,” Rysavy said.

Many residents there have generators, but after using them for several days, they face a new problem: running out of fuel for their generators.

“They can’t pump gas because they don’t have power; they need electricity,” said DeLoris Rudolph, McIntosh County’s emergency services director.

The North Dakota National Guard plans to bring additional generators to heat homes in and around Zeeland, N.D., southwest of Ashley, but they can’t do that until weather conditions improve, Rudolph said.

“Some of these people have been out since Thursday,” Rudolph said, adding that she was told some might not have power restored for up to three weeks.

For now, McIntosh County residents have found suitable places to ride out the storm until power returns, by taking shelter with neighbors who have access to alternative heating sources, Rudolph said.

With weather conditions expected to remain in the single digits and lower for the rest of the week, residents are more concerned about the future.

One option being discussed Monday was to open an emergency community shelter in Zeeland to provide aid and heat to local residents, Rudolph said.

“We haven’t had a snowstorm like this in a lot of years,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen here.”

Gov. John Hoeven issued a snow emergency on Friday. It activates all state resources to respond to severe weather, and state agencies were working Monday to help communities statewide restore power.

Hoeven also waived service hour restrictions for commercial truck drivers delivering supplies to rural electric co-ops.

Across the Dakotas, nearly 13,000 people were reportedly out of power on Monday. Of those, more than 5,000 were in North Dakota and about 7,800 were in South Dakota, according to The Associated Press.

As many as 8,000 utility poles were believed to be down in the Dakotas because of ice buildup and strong winds, The AP reported.

In contrast, northwestern Minnesota residents saw only sporadic outages in rural areas, with no widespread problems reported throughout the weekend.

For instance, Moorhead Public Service reported 76 residents without power for one hour on Saturday afternoon.

In the south and west portions of the state, however, Gov. Tim Pawlenty activated the Minnesota National Guard to assist with sheltering and other support for those without power.

Tips for dealing with a power outage:

Local emergency managers:

Area power companies:

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541