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Forum and wire reports, Published June 20 2010

Pawlenty declares state of emergency in Minnesota for storm damage

Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared a state of emergency Saturday in several counties as hundreds of Minnesota residents worked to clean up after a series of deadly tornadoes ripped through the state.

The shock and despair that came after as many as 39 tornadoes touched down Thursday, killing three people and damaging hundreds of homes, began to give way Saturday to a budding optimistic spirit.

Volunteers removed downed trees and cleared debris as Minnesota National Guard troops patrolled in hard-hit neighborhoods. Although some cleanup efforts will take weeks or longer, authorities said many communities have already begun the healing process.

“Obviously, there’s a sense of shock by some people, but for the most part, people are working together and helping their neighbors out,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Milo Dahlin of Steele County, where tornadoes touched down near Ellendale and Blooming Prairie.

Pawlenty declared a state of emergency in Faribault, Freeborn, Olmsted, Otter Tail, Polk, Steele and Wadena counties. The order directs state governments to work with federal agencies to provide emergency aid, and state officials will determine if more assistance is needed.

The most serious damage was in Wadena, where officials reported 232 homes were hit, and in a rural area just west of Albert Lea, where about 60 rural properties saw damage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, will conduct a damage assessment to determine what kind of federal disaster assistance would be available, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said.

Mentor victims improve

The condition of a woman injured in a Minnesota tornado Thursday has been upgraded, according to officials at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks.

Patricia Wilber of Grand Forks, who was injured at Maple Lake, Minn., was listed in satisfactory condition Saturday night. Previously her condition had been serious.

Heidi Michaels, another tornado victim, was discharged Friday from RiverView Health System in Crookston.

Michaels had been working in her father’s service station in Mentor, when the tornado struck. Her father, Wes Michaels, who covered his daughter with his body to protect her, died from injuries received in the storm.