MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s hard enough to imagine the sheer terror of a passing tornado, when you’re safely hunkered down in a basement. Then try to comprehend the fear going through Ronald Crossland’s mind when, just a block from his North Minneapolis home, his vehicle came to a jarring stop.
“When you look at the truck I’m thankful to be alive actually,” Crossland said.
For the past five years, the former state transportation worker has been down on his luck. Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, along came Sunday.
“I lost my vehicle, I’ve been out of work since 2006, you know, but I am thankful I guess,” he said.
He’s thankful because he came whisker close to certain death. While driving his 1999 Cadillac Escalade Sunday afternoon, he saw the approaching weather and was trying to return home. Just a block from reaching Vincent Avenue, he thought he was about to lose his life.
A giant ash tree crashed to the ground, scoring a direct hit on Ronald’s vehicle, crushing the cab like a mere pop can.
When asked if he had time to be frightened, Crossland said, ”Yeah, not knowing it at the time but yeah, I probably was.”
Fortunately for him, he instinctively pressed the button and reclined the driver’s seat, giving him more room to move. That’s when a neighbor helped him crawl out to safety and to a scene of utter devastation.
“I didn’t feel no glass, like on my face when I got home. I had some glass in my shoe, but none in my eyes or in my hair,” he said.
That giant ash tree was just one of hundreds, perhaps thousand of trees uprooted and snapped off in the storm. Around the corner and down the street, a group of three Minneapolis firefighters were pitching in on their own time.
Kelly Anderson was one of them.
“We saw the area needed help and we work in North Minneapolis. We’re part of a crew that’s been here for years. Part of our civic duty is to help the community and our neighbors,” he said.
Now, chainsaws and chippers shroud a four-mile long swath of the city in a symphony of unwelcomed racket. Volunteers, neighbors and city crews are clearing away debris that has turned lives upside down. But for one man at least, Sunday’s tornado has made Crossland a believer that luck can change in a heartbeat.
“I thank God I’m alive, thank God I’m alive,” he said.
At 21st Avenue North and Queen lives another storm survivor. She feels just as lucky as Crossland and with an equally harrowing story to share.
“I was numb, I’m still numb,” Nancy Coleman said.
Coleman was coming down from her second-story staircase when suddenly, the north side of her home was literally ripped apart.
“I was standing right above where it started to go off,” Coleman said.
She had been working in her second-story office when she decided it was time to head downstairs. She didn’t get any farther than the staircase when the entire side of the wall disappeared. That force exposed Coleman to a whirling sea of debris.
“I wasn’t thinking of anything. It was like, extremely quick and very violent. And I’m still picking grit and stuff off of me,” Coleman said.
Now with no power, residents like Coleman have to find temporary shelter. The storm scored a direct hit on Xcel Energy’s main distribution lines. Hundreds of power poles are toppled or badly listing and powerlines are down everywhere you look. More than 100 line crews will be working around the clock to restore power to the four-square-mile area.
But the job promises to be both tedious and slow.
“First we have to get access, bring in heavy equipment, then drill holes and plant poles and finally string the conductor. Could be a day, two or three — it’s hard to say,” said Steve Roalstad, Xcel spokesman.
Residents know that restoring power is the first step to rebuilding their shattered neighborhoods.
“Yes, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and we ask this community of us to come together,” said resident Helen Lawler.
Mayor, Officials Talk About Tornado Damage Plans
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said city crews are clearing debris block by block and tallying the number of homes damaged by the tornado that killed one person and injured more than 40 others.
Speaking at a storm-damaged neighborhood early Monday morning, Rybak said reports of widespread looting are false. The mayor says one liquor store was looted right after the tornado hit and there were a few burglaries overnight, but nothing widespread.
Rybak also praised how North Minneapolis handled the emergency situation. Read that story here.
Meanwhile, other officials got a first-hand look at the wreckage. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Mayor R.T. Rybak and other city leaders went on the morning tour.
“I think that you’ve all seen from the pictures of this area that there were a lot of houses and businesses that were twisted and turned in this tornado,” said Klobuchar, at a news conference. “But it’s more than that when you visit with the families at the family center their lives have been twisted … and turned upside down.”
She said that they’re already looking into getting federal assistance from FEMA and that they were already on the ground doing assessments. She says Minneapolis might be eligible for up to $6.9 million in federal disaster aid, as well as individual and small-business loans.
“The people of the neighborhood are resilient,” said Ellison. “I’m confident that we will rebuild this community and we will be better than ever before.”
“In the six months, a year, that it takes to rebuild this beautiful community,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, “we will be here for you, just like we always have been.”
WCCO’s Liz Collin Reports On Looting Incident
When the tornado smashed through neighborhoods on Minneapolis’ north side, it damaged at least 100 homes. The storm also toppled tall trees into houses and downed power lines.
Crews are in the area Monday, making repairs, clearing roads, fixing downed power lines and gas leaks and assessing the damage to buildings.
Police spokesman William Palmer says off ramps from Interstate 94 to north Minneapolis will be closed until further notice to reduce traffic in the damaged areas.
Officials said it is necessary to prohibit all access to a block until each block is considered safe. Once a block is OK, residents can enter the area through one of the designated checkpoints. See the checkpoints and read the Minneapolis Police Tornado Response Plan.
WCCO’s Holly Wagner Reports On Mpls. Damage Assessments
Injuries And Evacuations
Floyd David Whitfield, 59, of Minneapolis, was killed in the storm when a tree fell on top of his car at North 37th Avenue and Fremont Avenue. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said he died as a result of blunt force head and neck injuries.
North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale reported treating 42 people, including 20 that were brought in by ambulance. They said none of those injuries were serious. On Monday, only two people were still being hospitalized.
Hennepin County Medical Center had four victims from the storm that were treated and released.
Approximately 200 people stayed at the Red Cross temporary shelter overnight at the Northeast Minneapolis Armory.
Monday morning, volunteers are addressing physical health and mental health concerns, as well as making sure families have necessary items like diapers, formula and medications.
Local corporations, including Target, are stepping up and donating items for families. The shelter will continue to provide meals all day to those in need.
The Salvation Army is also assisting and set up three mobile kitchens in St. Louis Park, Fridley and North Minneapolis. Read more about the victims of the tornado.
Seven schools in north Minneapolis were closed Monday because of the tornado. They are Lucy Craft Laney, Cityview, Nellie Stone Johnson, Hmong International Academy, Plymouth Youth Center, Urban League Elementary and Northstar.
Patrick Henry High School, North High School and Folwell Elementary School were open for anyone needing food, water and shelter.
All Fridley Public Schools were also closed because of the tornado.
The North Memorial Clinic, Camden Physicians, in Minneapolis is closed until further notice because of damage. Patients with appointments are being referred to the clinic in Plymouth, Minn. on the corner of Rockford Road and Highway 169. Click here to see closures.
Xcel Energy said they now expect to restore power to most of the thousands of customers who lost service in Sunday’s storm by Wednesday night. Xcel had originally thought it could have power to its by Monday night, but it had underestimated the extent of the damage and the time it would take to fix it.
Xcel said 22,000 customers in the Twin Cities lost power at the height of the storm — with north Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Brooklyn Center and Fridley hardest hit.
Xcel urges people to avoid downed power lines and says that it is not safe to drive over them.
By 9:30 a.m. there were 11,035 people affected, including the areas of Wisconsin that were hit by the storm.
CenterPoint Energy Concerns, Advice About Gas Lines After Tornado
CenterPoint Energy is advising its customers returning to their homes in North Minneapolis to not attempt to turn on their gas if it isn’t working.
If your gas is not working, call CenterPoint Energy at 1-877-477-1664. Again, do not attempt to turn on the gas yourself.
The company is also advising its customers that if they smell gas in their homes, they should leave immediately and tell others to do the same.
For more natural gas safety tips, see CenterPoint’s website.