Area recovering from last week’s storm; Power restored to most residents in Mower, Freeborn Counties

Published 5:37 pm Monday, April 15, 2019

After last week’s wind and snowstorm forced a state of emergency, the situations in Mower and Freeborn Counties are gradually returning to normal.

Gov. Tim Walz learned about the continuing efforts to restore power to portions of southeast Minnesota during a visit to Mower and Freeborn Counties Saturday morning. Walz was briefed by members of emergency management, law enforcement and the National Guard on where things stood as Freeborn-Mower Cooperative— along with line workers from Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois—continued working on downed lines and returning power to communities.

“The one thing that’s important is to get up there and see it,” Walz said. “If you’ve got power at your house, the snow is going to be melted; it appears nothing happened. This is pretty catastrophic. It was good to see it that way.”

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With Walz’s declaration of a state of emergency, the Minnesota National Guard deployed troops out in the counties, blocking off roads that had power lines fallen across them. This freed up the sheriffs departments to get back to attending to their duties.

Overall, 143 soldiers from the National Guard were deployed and 48 vehicles utilized.

“They were superbly prepared because they knew this was their mission,” said Major General Jon Jensen, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard. “It’s very reflective of how seriously we take this mission across the state.”

Walz praised the leadership and cooperation that helped get things back on track.

“There’s a lot of leadership here, working at a lot of levels in here and that’s critical,” he said. “This is what we are supposed to do. We’ll do this right and will continue to monitor.”

Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik points out on a map how the National Guard was deployed in helping supprort his department during a briefing for Gov. Tim Walz Saturday at the National Guard Armory in Austin. Eric Johnson/

Power coming back

At the storm’s height, 8,200 Freeborn-Mower Cooperative customers were without power, according to Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services CEO Jim Krueger. As of Monday morning, that number was reduced to 400 customers.

“We got a few areas that were pretty hard hit that we’re getting to today (Monday),” Krueger said. “There are still about 400 people without power, but Mower County doesn’t look too bad.”

Over the weekend, power crews replaced about 500 poles, though Krueger said an estimated 200 poles are still down throughout the coverage area. The most affected areas still in need of work are south of Blooming Prairie in Udolpho Township, Mansfield Township in Freeborn County and the area east of Gordonsville.

“We estimate close to full restoration by Tuesday evening,” Krueger said. “We have around 160 crewmembers working right now. Under normal circumstances, we have 25. We got a lot of outside help, which we’re very thankful for.”

On Saturday morning, Lyle and Elkton remained without power, but power was restored in Lyle between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturday. Lyle Mayor Gary Harrison, who had been told power could be restored as late as Monday, said having power that soon was “totally unexpected.”

“We had gotten so many conflicting reports, with people posting on Facebook, it was pretty frustrating,” he said. “I was trying to keep everyone in the community informed and I finally got in touch with emergency management from Freeborn-Mower Co-op and was told to expect a long delay.”

During the outage, the Lyle City Hall was open to those in need of assistance and shelter thanks to a generator powering the building.

“We had people coming in washing their kids up a bit and warming up some food in the microwave,” Harrison said. “I had people driving through town that heard about it and stopped and came in.”

While cots were available, no one stayed at the Lyle City Hall overnight.

“We were absolutely blessed we had 30 degree weather,” Harrison said. “If it had been 10 below, it would have been a different situation. People grouped together and took care of each other.”

Harrison said that citizens checked on elderly residents and made sure they were comfortable. Those who needed to be moved out were put in contact with the Salvation Army for vouchers to be put up in hotels.

“In the future, we’re going to look into what to do to be better prepared for another emergency,” Harrison said.

Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik said deputies checked into Elkton on Sunday morning and confirmed power had been restored in that area.

Gov. Tim Walz, center, was in Austin at the National Guard Army where he received an update as to where recovery efforts were from this past week’s storm. Eric Johnson/

Roads reopened

Many roads that were barricaded over the weekend due to downed power lines have been reopened. According to Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik, as of Monday morning the last barricaded road was 710th Avenue from 110th to 130th Street.

Members of the Minnesota National Guard, who helped enforce the barriers, were relieved from all of their checkpoints in Mower County by 4 p.m. on Saturday, according to Sandvik.

“We couldn’t have gotten through it without them,” he said.

Sandvik did advise that 120th Street between 560th and 570th Avenue was closed due to muddy conditions. He also said County Road 1 at Highway 56 was marked for low hanging power lines, but was open.

Freeborn-Mower Cooperative CEO Jim Krueger gives an update Saturday morning as to where his crews are in terms of getting power back up for customers. Eric Johnson/

Cost still unclear

State officials said it’s unclear just how much this disaster will cost in the end. As more and more power is returned and the cleanup comes to a close, assessments of damage will become clearer with the hopes of getting federal dollars to bolster state emergency funding.

“I think people look at this and they didn’t see the buildings blowing down, we didn’t see the massive flooding, but this is a very expensive proposition to build this back up,” Walz said.

In a letter to the White House on Monday, Walz informed President Donald Trump of the recent severe weather events in Minnesota and the looming need for federal disaster relief.

“Minnesotans are hardy people and we have a lot of experience taking care of each other during and after severe weather,” Walz wrote. “Over the past twelve months – not counting this event – Minnesota has experienced ten major disasters.”

“We believe the uninsured damage to public infrastructure and other costs for this event will far exceed our threshold for public assistance program disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” Walz added. “… All of this is said to ensure you are aware of what’s happening in Minnesota this spring and to let you know I anticipate requesting help from the federal government.”