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Pockets hit hard in July 4 storm

Pelican, Burntside lakes saw damage reminiscent of 1999

Tom Klein and Marshall Helmberger
Posted 7/12/12

REGIONAL - A violent storm, reminiscent of the July 4, 1999 derecho that leveled thousands of acres of trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, struck isolated pockets across the region on …

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Pockets hit hard in July 4 storm

Pelican, Burntside lakes saw damage reminiscent of 1999


REGIONAL - A violent storm, reminiscent of the July 4, 1999 derecho that leveled thousands of acres of trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, struck isolated pockets across the region on Independence Day.

Winds reaching up to 90 miles per hour ripped across the north shore of Pelican Lake and also slammed portions of Burntside and Little Long lakes near Ely. Meanwhile, lightning strikes caused damage as well, taking out the main electrical pole in Crane Lake, melting the meter and damaging equipment at one resort.

“It was just like a tsunami,” said Vanessa Ingebretsen, who, with her husband, Ray, operates Aspen Resort on the north shore of Pelican. “You could see the wind actually lift water from the lake.”

Aspen Resort was among the hardest hit by the storm. Powerful winds toppled dozens of trees and tossed a canoe, plastic picnic tables and deck furniture like a child scattering toys.

Falling trees smashed decks and damaged vehicles and buildings. The resort’s fish house was clobbered by several trees and winds snapped off a section of a wooden playground set along the resort’s waterfront.

Amazingly, no one was injured in the storm. Vanessa described how one guest, carrying her children, was rushing up from the lakefront as the storm hit and a tree toppled behind her.

“It was like something from a disaster movie,” added Ray.

Further east, on Burntside Lake, Camp Van Vac was dealing with damage of its own, as about 25 trees, mostly pine, came crashing down around the resort, knocking out power for about 24 hours.

Two cars owned by guests were smashed by falling trees and an outhouse was wrecked as well, according to Van Vac owner Nancy Jo Tubbs.

“In the middle of it, I thought it was just as strong as the 1999 storm,” said Tubbs.

“It was real comparable,” agreed Bob Champa, who operates Lakeside Services in the Ely area. Champa has been busy with cleanup ever since the storm, and said parts of Burntside and Little Long lakes were among the hardest hit areas locally. “There are many big pine down,” he said.

Some structures failed to withstand the wind as well. A yurt recently built on Ripple Island on Burntside, was completely destroyed. “It’s just gone,” said Champa.

Back in the Orr area, Norway Point Resort also suffered damages and was without power for 57 hours. Bruce and Jacque Feela were busy this week fixing up the resort, where docks were damaged and rolled by the strong winds. Boats were tossed into the weedy shoreline and tackle, rods and reels and lifejackets were stripped from the boats’ interiors.

Both Aspen and Norway Point lost power and some of the guests, who wanted to leave, were directed to resorts on the south side of the lake, which still retained power and escaped most of the storm’s wrath.

According to Aurora Muggli, who works at Norway Point, although some guests did leave, many stayed and even assisted in the cleanup at the resort.

Ray also said guests at Aspen chipped in and were augmented by volunteers from the community, who arrived shortly after the storm subsided to help clear the dozens of trees littering the resort grounds.

“A lot of the guests were surprised at how much help showed up,” said Ray. “They said that would never happen in their community.”

Ray also praised the Lake Country Power crews who were on the scene quickly to restore power in the area. Power was back on line about a day after the storm hit. Norway was without power for about 57 hours, according to Muggli.

Russell Holman, who was among the army of volunteers helping with cleanup, estimated as many as 80-plus trees were downed in the area. Aspen, he told Ray, had sustained the worst damage.

“I didn’t know whether to be proud or just really sad,” joked Ray.

Some of the damage in the area appeared to be the work of a twister in addition to the powerful straight-line winds. Trees snapped in half near the Cusson Loop show the telltale spiral shape that indicates a twister traveled through the area, Muggli said.

Both Aspen and Norway Point had to close temporarily to deal with cleaning up the storm’s aftermath, but will reopen on Saturday.

At Camp Van Vac, the resort was able to remain open in part due to the cleanup help provided by guests.

“Our guests were just amazing,” sad Tubbs. “They just grabbed chain saws and started cleaning up. Everybody worked through the rain that evening getting everything functioning.”

July is typically the peak of the summer tourist trade and most resorts had filled up with reservations. At Aspen Resort, Ray said he should be able to recoup some of its losses. Insurance adjusters, who were on the scene earlier in the week, said the resort does have coverage for lost income.

Just a short distance away, the island property of Mike and Melissa Hahne took a similar beating.

“It’s a mess,” said Melissa who visited the site with Mike earlier in the week. Numerous were snapped in half or toppled by the high winds and a large white pine collapsed on the cabin’s roof.

“All those big white pines and Norways had been there for hundreds of years,” said Melissa, who said trees also smashed the deck and so many littered the ground that they can’t even see their decoy shed.

She said they would have to wait until a barge is back on the lake to bring heavy equipment out to the site before they can fully assess the damages.

There was also damage in the town of Orr to a lesser extent. A pair of large spruces fell on the roof of Norman’s One Stop and caused damage.

Lynn Norman said her family was on a pontoon boat near Hahne’s island when the storm began brewing and they hightailed it home. “The wind was crazy,” she said. “I had never seen anything like it before.”

A few trees in Orr City Park were also casualties of the storm and a lightning strike brought down the main computer at the Orr Municipal Liquor Store. Liquor store manager Bobbi Malecha said the computer was back online by 3:30 p.m. the next day, but it complicated sales on what is typically one of the busiest days of the year. “We were still able to do business,” she said, “but we couldn’t take credit cards. We had to have people get cash from the ATM instead.”

The city itself was without power for nearly a day following the storm. Guests checking into the Pelican Lake Resort and Inn were handed small flashlghts to make their way to their rooms in the darkened resort.

Voyagaire Houseboats and Lodge in Crane Lake also experienced storm-related problems. A lighting strike there damaged coolers and cash registers, most of which will have to replaced, according to Gretchen Janssen.

The loss of power on the Fourth of July also resulted in some last-minute adjustments to the dinner menu at the resort. “We had a limited menu,” said Janssen. “We were still able to cook burgers and pizzas. But it’s bad timing to lose power on the Fourth of July in Crane Lake.”

The community’s annual parade, games and fireworks continued, however. The storm and rain had lifted just in time for the parade. But the resort had to limp along without full power for the next two days because the storm had also damaged the resort’s main generator.

The storm dramatically altered the landscape along Pelican’s north shore. You can now see the road from the lakefront of Aspen, once shielded by dozens of trees.

Meanwhile, Ray Ingrebretsen found at least one silver lining in the storm’s aftermath. Noting that dozens of trees along the undeveloped portion of Pelican’s north shore were now in the lake after being toppled by the winds, he predicted it would be a hot spot for crappies in the future. “There’s lots of good structure for crappie fishing there now,” he said.


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