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Steve Wagner, Forum Communications, Published July 03 2012

UPDATED: Total outages remain about 5,500 in Bemidji area after storm

BEMIDJI, Minn. - Between 3,100 and 3,200 Otter Tail Power customers remain without electricity this morning after a storm packing winds in excess of 80 mph hit Bemidji and surrounding areas Monday night.

Cris Kling, a spokeswoman for Otter Tail, said there are 40 power employees here working to restore power, a process slowed by the large number of trees down.

"The primary thing is trees on the lines," said Kling, adding the number of broken poles and transmission crossbars are few considering the storm.

She said the first priority for Otter Tail employees is restoring transmission lines, and then crews will focus on smaller distribution lines.

Many homes are without power after electricity meters were ripped from structures. Kling said homeowners will need to call electricians to fix meters. She also warned people to stay away from downed lines.

The worst hit area was between the Nymore neighborhood in southeast Bemidji to the Lavinia neighborhood east of Lake Bemidji, she said.

Crews were still working to gain access to Lavinia, where trees blocked the roads.

Kling said all of Cass Lake is without power and homeowners in the south Lake Irving neighborhood sustained heavy damage.

Otter Tail has numerous crews without equipment working, but Kling said there was no estimated time when power would be restored to affected customers.

Warning sirens sounded as the thunderstorm rolled through the area, toppling trees onto homes, cars and streets. Once the storm passed, cleanup started nearly immediately.

A man driving on Roosevelt Road stopped at Kay Avenue, grabbed a Stihl chainsaw and began cutting a large pine tree blocking the road. The man, who declined to give his name, said he was from Bemidji and just wanted to help out however he could. Neighbors began dragging trees to the curb – a scene seen throughout most of the city.

Terry Seitz, an operator with the city of Bemidji, was out pumping the sewer so it wouldn’t back up.

“It was near the top, so we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t have any more issues,” Seitz said. “This is the worst storm I’ve seen in a long time.”