Part III of a series
MARSHALL - All over town, they could see it coming. But area residents said the clouds approaching Marshall on the afternoon of July 1, 2011, looked a lot worse than a typical thunderstorm.
"The sky turned the ugliest green I ever saw," said Paul Dunlap. He was worried about being caught in the storm at his cycle shop along Minnesota Highway 23, so he and two other people drove north to a home with a basement they could shelter in. After they left, he said, "I got a text message from someone who saw the roof come off the shop."
Much of the damage from last summer’s storm revolved around trees in Marshall.
Lyon County Emergency Manager Tammy Van Overbeke recalled weather spotting along with a Lyon County Sheriff's deputy that day.
"I said I had never seen anything this bad, and the deputy said the same thing," she said.
The July 1 storm, which tore through Marshall with hail and straightline winds with speeds up to 80 miles per hour, left all kinds of damage in its wake. Homes and businesses reported everything from dented siding to uprooted trees and roof and water damage. Signs and streetlights were toppled over, and hail and debris damaged cars on the lot at businesses like Kruse Motors. While a fast response made a difference in cleaning things up, for many people rebuilding took much longer.
At the Marshall True Value, where outbuildings had been damaged in the storm, repairs weren't completed until spring.
"For us, it was kind of unique," said Bob Sternke, True Value general manager. The contractors the business would have used to fix the storm damage were busy with customers' requests. "Everyone jumped into gear real fast," Sternke said, and the workload is still heavy for a lot of contractors. "There still are folks working on roofs."
While Paul's Cycle was destroyed in the storm, Dunlap said he "got very lucky" in being able to rebuild and start over. The mild fall and winter were helpful, both for reconstruction and getting sales started up again.
"I was back in business four months to the day later," he said.
A unique aspect of the July 1 storm was how widespread damages were, said Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes.
"Few people could have imagined the severity of the storm. This was devastating for a very large area," Byrnes said.
At the Marshall building inspection department, enough residents applied for building permits to repair their property that Marshall Building Official Ilya Gutman said it would be difficult to give a total.
"It's hard to say, but we had a lot more than usual," Gutman said. At first, he said, "There was probably about a month's delay, because people were going through insurance claims." But around September through November, permit applications took off. A year later, the numbers have gone down somewhat, but the building department is still very busy, Gutman said.
Given the storm's severity, Marshall could have fared much worse.
"We came out of the storm really good," said Steve Johnson, manager of operations at Marshall Municipal Utilities. More than 90 percent of Marshall's electric lines are underground, which helped protect the city from power outages. The transmission lines supplying Marshall with electricity were a bigger concern, Johnson said.
One transmission pole about three and a half miles east of town was broken by the storm and needed emergency attention.
"We supported it with a truck overnight, and there was a temporary pole put in for about a week," Johnson said.
Two of the wells supplying Marshall with water were also affected by the storm.
"There was one wellhouse lost in the Dudley aquifer area, and one from the Marshall aquifer," Johnson said.
Although area residents and businesses were cautioned to conserve water in the hours after the storm, MMU was able to maintain service. A neighboring utility company helped by supplying a generator to power the well pumps until electricity could be restored. Overall, Johnson said, repairs for municipal utilities were finished within a month of the storm.
Johnson said the July storm was "quite an eye opener."
"I can't recall dealing with winds of this magnitude," he said. He said it was shocking to see how many trees were down in the streets.
"I think Mother Nature showed off everything she had," Van Overbeke said of the storm. The conditions were a test of organization and teamwork for emergency responders.
Responders in Marshall and across Lyon County came together as soon as the storm had passed, Van Overbeke said. For rural residences, responders did a house-by-house search to make sure no one was trapped under any demolished buildings. Most of the immediate response was over by the early hours of July 2, she said.
Lyon County emergency responders also joined the volunteers cleaning up the city of Tyler, which had been hit by an EF2 tornado caused by the same storm system.
Within the city of Marshall, both local residents and municipal authorities went to work cleaning up right away. Byrnes said public safety workers and city officials came together about an hour after the storm arrived. Some of the first responders were city truck drivers clearing the streets of debris. The city declared a state of emergency for 72 hours after the storm and worked with private contractors to help remove downed trees.
Van Overbeke said the lesson that could be taken from the storm included the importance of being prepared for severe storms and following local weather advisories and safety instructions. You shouldn't wait to hear tornado sirens before taking shelter, she said.
Through it all, area residents said, the most remarkable thing about the storm's aftermath was that it didn't involve loss of life.
"One of the amazing things that we can be thankful for, is no one was hurt, and they certainly could have been," Byrnes said.