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This home on the corner of Highway 71 and End of the Day Drive was heavily damaged when trees toppled on it early Sunday morning. Most homes along the street lost trees, shrubs and structures. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Strong storm takes weekend toll

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

At 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Mark Johnson had just turned off the TV, thinking the hellacious thunderstorms that rolled though his neighborhood had left the area.

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The kids were sleeping soundly in their rooms on End of the Day Drive north of Park Rapids.

"I heard a big kaboom and it shook the house," Johnson said.

The huge oak tree in the family's front yard had exploded into bits and pieces.

In Dorset, Mark's wife, Dawn, had just closed Zorbaz Mexican & Pizza Joint.

Vicious claps of thunder and lightning and a driving rain were causing patrons to linger.

Dawn's trip home into the neighborhood was unfamiliar. It looked like a war zone.

Trees were uprooted. Two toppled onto the home on the corner of End of Day Drive and U.S. Highway 71 north. Trees blocked driveways and the end of End of the Day Drive. Light posts were splintered. Miraculously, no one lost power.

"It had to have been a tornado the way things landed," Dawn Johnson insists.

Mark Johnson said he didn't hear the freight train sound many tornado victims describe. But he did describe a sudden and eerie silence that followed the noise.

"Yeah, it was a little scary," he said.

"We did have a line of thunderstorms move through the Park Rapids area starting at 1:45 a.m.," said National Weather meteorologist Jim Kaiser. "We haven't had reports of damage but wind speeds at the airport measured 50 to 55 mph."

Kaiser said the NWS, because it had not had damage claims called in, could not rule as to whether a tornado or straight-line winds hit the Hubbard County neighborhood.

"It seems likely to have been a downburst wind event, but we'll be digging back through the archived radar to see... and comparing that against any more reports," said NWS' Gregory Gust.

"Everybody has their own opinion," said Collette Baldwin, who lives across the street from Johnsons.

"I think it was a small tornado."

Baldwin starts counting the trees down: seven on the corner, five there, three here, the ones that fell across the driveway across the street. The list goes on.

She points to a pile of rubble in her own yard.

"Our fish house was all over the yard," she said, identifying the pile.

Back down on the corner Ralph Rittger was on his second day cleaning up the mess. He owns Rittgers Tree Service and was called by the Minneapolis owner of the corner home to haul away the tree debris.

"It went through about 2 a.m.," he said of the storm. "We didn't get any in Nevis. The inside of the home was damaged," he said, referring to the home off Highway 71 where he and his crew were cleaning up. "Sticks went through the house."

Rittgers said he was not sure where the tenants relocated. He said the homeowner told him there were no injuries.

"From May 22-23 we have 75 power outages affecting 2,200 accounts," said Jared Echternach, Member Services Manager for Itasca-Mantrap.

"We had crews going pretty much all weekend. High winds were the culprit."

Echternach said there were some sporadic outages Monday, but all of the weekend customers affected had service restored.

On End of the Day Drive, chainsaws were going full blast Sunday as residents began the cleanup in hot sticky weather.

The damage Sunday followed a similar night overnight Friday into Saturday that brought a line of severe thunderstorms rumbling through the region. Numerous trees were down across roadways including Arcade Loop in southern Hubbard County.

Sunny conditions return to the region by the time this edition of the Enterprise hits news stands. The Memorial Day holiday should be perfect lake weather.

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