Reporting Colin Smith
WORTHINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) – A combination of freezing rain and wet, heavy snow brought down trees and power lines in Worthington on Wednesday, leaving much of the southwest Minnesota town without electricity or heat, and even snapped a 500-foot radio tower, too.
The community of 12,000 residents went dark around 3:30 a.m., when the second of two major substations lost power. Weather also toppled a third, alternative power source.
“We’re just sitting out here with no connection from the outside world,” Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain said. “We do have 14 megawatts of diesel generated power, but that isn’t enough to carry our entire community so we’ve been rolling blackouts.”
Some 4,200 Nobles Cooperative Electric customers lost power after the storm deposited about eight-tenths of freezing rain Tuesday night. The Worthington Daily Globe reports more than 3,200 were still waiting for the power to come back by late Wednesday morning, and some rural customers probably won’t see their service restored for two days.
Another 2,000 customers of Federated Rural Electric lost power in the Jackson area, and 800 were still without power by late Wednesday morning.
The Department of Homeland Security says that about 90 percent of Nobles County was without power on Wednesday. They’re setting up a shelter at the National Guard Armory in Luverne.
Businesses have closed and school has been canceled in an attempt to reduce demand on the fragile power grid. The Utilities Department is working to keep blackouts to a maximum of 45 minutes to keep homes warm and dry.
“It’s a major inconvenience, but as long as we can keep our generation operating we should be fine,” Hain said. “If it were 20 below zero, it would be much more serious, but the temperature is moderate so we’re not going to freeze anyone out.”
Sanford Worthington Medical Center, a 64-bed hospital, is running entirely on its own generators.
One of the town’s radio stations is off the air after a 500-foot transmitter snapped in half.
“The tower had more than two inches of ice built up on it,” said Chad Cummings, general manager of Radio Works, a collection of four local stations. “Trees are down everywhere the devastation down here has just been massive.”
City officials worry that an additional 6 to 12 inches of snow piled on top of tree debris will slow line-repair crews. Public works employees are working to clear streets littered with felled limbs and scattered branches.
“We’re doing our best with what we have and hoping that Mother Nature has given us her worst and get this fixed as soon as possible,” Hain said. “If not, if could be late Thursday or early Friday before power is restored.”
The Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will assist Worthington with damage assessment.
The National Weather Service says southwestern Minnesota can expect to get another 8 or 9 inches of snow by Thursday morning in the next round of the spring storm.
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