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Work to clear debris begins in wake of Bemidji tornado

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A worker for Sportsman’s Tree Solutions uses a chainsaw to remove tree damage on Thursday from Ike Floura’s yard in Bemidji. Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service2 / 3
Jack Buhn speaks about the damage to the grounds of St. Bartholomew's Church on Thursday in Bemidji. Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service3 / 3

BEMIDJI, Minn.—Though Thursday brought clear skies and warm, breezy weather, signs of the small tornado that touched down in the middle of Bemidji Wednesday, July 4, remained in the whine of chainsaws, rumble of bulldozers and tree stumps still clinging by their roots to the boulevard.

City workers, private tree removal companies and residents could be seen in the hardest-hit areas Thursday morning, continuing cleanup efforts that began shortly after the EF-1 twister swept through a 12-square-block area at about 6:18 a.m. on Independence Day.

The tornado downed numerous trees and power lines along, and several garages and less-durable buildings were damaged, along with some roofs.

Ike Floura, who has lived in her house for 62 years, said her property was one of the hardest hit. Floura did not know a tornado had touched down nearby until a neighbor called and told her to look outside.

"I had the window open in my bedroom and the curtain was just flying, so I quick got up, shut the window, went back to bed," she said as a tree removal service worked to clear the downed stumps and branches from her front and back yards. "I heard, you know, just like a roar but I didn't think much of it, and my neighbor lady called me on the phone and said,'You've got to look out the window and see what happened,' and I couldn't believe it."

Floura, like many others who woke up to damage Wednesday morning, had no warning that a tornado was coming. Beltrami County Emergency Management did not activate the county's tornado sirens, as the weather event did not show up on the Doppler radar, and damage was reported only after the twister had passed.

Beltrami County is located almost directly between two radar stations: one in Mayville, N.D., and the other in Duluth. Because of the county's location, as well as the curvature of the earth, smaller storms cannot be picked up by the radar.

"We rely heavily on the warnings that come from the National Weather Service, that's our primary tool that we use to determine when we need to activate the sirens," Beltrami County Emergency Management Director Chris Muller said. "In the lower level of the storm, the bottom several thousand feet where these weak tornadoes are most detectable, that's not adequately picked up on the radar...These weak, smaller tornadoes typically don't show up on the radar very well."

Though Wednesday's tornado managed to uproot dozens of trees and even blow a garage off of its foundation, it was relatively small as tornadoes go, Muller said.

According to a release from the weather service, the tornado was associated with a line of thunderstorms that swept quickly east across the northwest part of the state. The NWS estimates that winds reached 100 mph and the path of the twister was about .7 miles long and 200 yards wide. The weather event lasted just one minute, the release said.

Although the hardest hit area was relatively small, the storm impacted other areas of the city, as well as outlying areas.

Jack Buhn, the senior warden of the Bishop's Committee at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, said that, while the church itself did not sustain much damage, the impact on the property was "devastating." Multiple trees were downed, Buhn said. City workers cleaned up the trees along the boulevard, but the church will be responsible for the damage on the grounds. The church's sign was also blown down and will need to be reinstalled.

"We are very grateful for the city's participation," Buhn said. "They were Johnny-on-the-spot."

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or gpastoor@bemidjipioneer.com

(218) 333-9796
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