In Waterville, the smell of burning wood from downed trees and branches was strong. And the sight of a community hit hard by the Sept. 20 storm was everywhere.
But no injuries were reported. The National Weather Service reported that as many as 10 tornadoes might have touched down from a band just west of Lake Elysian in rural Janesville, across the Waseca-Le Sueur county line near Elysian, and on to the Waterville and Morristown communities.
Residents and emergency responders agreed, the storm hit fast and furious just after 6:45 p.m. A citywide emergency alert went out in Waterville and sirens sounded just before the storm downed power lines, uprooted trees, tore roofs off some homes and shook a community.
Dakota Pullen was working at the Waterville Casey’s convenience store and saw it hit.
“The windows bowed in and out,” he said as the storm intensified and power went out. “We saw it hit across the street (Hwy. 13) and I saw that tree (to the south) go down.”
Fellow Casey’s employee Sami Roneker showed up for her morning shift to a dark store, no power or rest rooms, but plenty of customer traffic. Curious travelers clogged Waterville streets and made work more difficult for emergency crews.
Roneker, who lives in Waterville, was still shaken, but “hanging in there,” she said.
“Barely. By a thread.”
There were no open gas stations, and city officials said trying to get power restored was the number one priority, as crews and residents would be looking for gas.
Kamp Dels and the Lakeview Resort were among areas which sustained damage to buildings and campers still parked at their northeast Waterville site, just off Hwy. 13.
“We are working to get the gas stations open as soon as possible,” Waterville Public Information Director Dan Guarrero said.
But Xcel Energy informed the city that it was having difficulty reaching a transmission line knocked out in the storm and there was no timetable on repairs.
Xcel reports 25 outages in the Waterville area, affecting over 2,200 customers. But there were also scattered outages that Xcel was updating late Thursday and early Friday.
“Crews are working on restoring power as quickly and safely as possible,” according to the Xcel Energy website alert.
As of 11:30 a.m Friday, Xcel had reported a total 440 outages affecting almost 10,500 customers ranging from extreme southwestern Minnesota, through the Hwy. 60 corridor, and into Wisconsin.
But it was Waterville that appeared to get hit the worst. Guarrero had called a press conference for 10 a.m. Friday but had difficulty getting word out to media due to limited internet and cell phone service. Another informational briefing was set for 2 p.m. Friday.
“We know the cleanup is extensive and people want to know what to do with debris,” Guarrero said. “Trees and branches can be brought to the South Reed Street (site), south of the city/county shop. The area is designated by cones.”
He paused a bit.
“This can be a little overwhelming,” Guarrero said.
His official city press release continued: “Please check the city’s Facebook page for any additional details about what to do with trash later this afternoon.”
Volunteers were anxious to help throughout the community, but Waterville officials said Friday morning it was too early for such assistance, that emergency crews needed time to clear streets and work on downed power lines.
“Volunteers are not needed at this time, but will be later,” reported Guarrero. “For those who want to volunteer, we are asking you...to check the city of Waterville Facebook page and website for details as to when and how you can help.”
City officials are also asking for all volunteers to register at City Hall before actively assisting in cleanup efforts.
But Guarrero said it’s going to take time and Xcel Energy was informing city officials of the difficulty in restoring service to customers.
“Xcel crews have been working throughout the night assessing damage and developing a plan to restore power,” Guarrero said. “Please be patient. This may take several days to completely restore power.”
City crews were busy clearing streets and moving debris to the side of roads throughout Waterville. Guarrero said residents need to “pay attention to road closures and cones” which designate downed power lines and hanging debris.
While Xcel Energy is working on major transmission lines, Guarrero emphasizes that residents with property damage and access lines to their homes will need to seek local contractors for help.
“Those residents who have downed power lines from their homes will need to contact an electrician,” he said. “Xcel Energy cannot do work on private property.”
Waterville city officials announced a 10 p.m. Thursday curfew to try and keep residents from driving to see storm damage in the city.
Waseca law enforcement agencies Thursday evening asked for no travel in the city of Waseca and portions of the county due to power outages and blocked roads due to downed trees.
County officials lifted the travel advisories early Friday morning, according to Emergency Management Director Denise Wright. And nearly all power had been restored throughout the county, with the exception of some rural areas.
Some portions of Waseca were reportedly without power from about 6:30 p.m. Thursday until 5 a.m. Friday.
Anyone with non-emergency, storm-related damage in Waseca County, including the cities of Waseca, Janesville, New Richland and Waldorf, may complete an online damage report form at www.co.waseca.mn.us/389/Emergency-Management or by calling 507-835-0690.
The Waseca County Emergency Operations Center reopened at 8 a.m. Friday.
Extensive damage was also reported in Morristown, Faribault, Owatonna and rural sections of Le Sueur, Waseca and Rice counties.
East Elysian Lake Road between Hwy. 60 and Janesville was closed Friday morning due to storm damage in that region. Trees blocked the roadway Thursday evening and several residences reported storm damage.
In Elysian, emergency crews were clearing streets and portions of the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail were closed or re-routed. The Department of Natural Resources also announced Friday morning that the trail would also be closed between Faribault and Morristown until further notice.