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Will Beaton, Published July 14 2013

Thief River Falls recovers from 'horrific' storm

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. – The sights from the highway entering the southwest corner of Thief River Falls on Saturday afternoon were as pleasant as can be – bales of hay lazed in the summer heat and bright flowers hung from pots on porches. In the southeast, however, the streets were filled with fallen trees and sweating residents struggling to clean them up.

A strong thunderstorm passed through the city Friday evening, and the southeast is where it hit the hardest; other parts of the city seemed unaffected.

According to the Thief River Falls Police Department, some sections of the city were still without power as of Saturday evening. Though they said it will “take a while to clean up the town,” officials reported that no one was injured in the storm.

Thief River Falls resident Greg Radniecki described the wind as “horrific.”

“Do you know what it takes to take a big oak tree and lay it down?” he asked. “(The wind) just took the trees and bent them over.”

The National Weather Service recorded gusts of wind exceeding 110 mph.

Radniecki said the worst of the wind did not last long, maybe only a few minutes. But in that time, trees all around the neighborhood suffered severed branches or complete uprootment.

“Then, it hailed for about 30 seconds,” he added. “It didn’t hail much, but it hit hard.”

He estimated the hail to be larger than silver dollars.

A landmark gone

As Robb Burkel rode his bicycle home from work after the storm subsided Friday night, he almost had trouble finding his house.

The massive evergreen tree in his front yard usually towered above the surrounding homes. He found the tree leaning against his house, completely uprooted.

“I dare say this tree was among the tallest of the evergreens in town. I don’t even have a guess as to how old it is,” Burkel said with a touch of sadness in his voice as he swept fallen branches and leaves into a pile on the lawn. “It won’t be the landmark on my corner anymore.”

The tree lay in the yard nearly parallel with the sidewalk, the highest end suspended several feet in the air by the remains of another large oak tree that took the brunt of the evergreen’s fall.

The roots of the tree stuck up in the air almost 7 feet, above a hole nearly as deep in the grass.

The tree scraped the south side of Burkel’s home and damaged a screen door, but if it had fallen just 10 degrees to the left, it would have destroyed the house.

“The wind was strong enough way up on top that it was enough to topple it, I guess,” he said.

Still, in light of the mess, the storm provided a chance for residents to strengthen their neighborly bonds.

“There were a lot of friends and neighbors yesterday helping out a lot,” Burkel said. “They were very generous with their time. I really appreciated that.”

Several churches and businesses had visibly damaged roofs, and virtually every yard on the city’s southeast was littered with timber.

Radniecki said he even saw a trailer home flipped on its side on his way into town Saturday morning.

With a 40 percent chance of more rain and thunderstorms in the next three days, residents are hurrying to finish cleaning over the weekend.

Burkel tried to find the good of the situation.

“My front yard will just have a new look!” he said.