Storm-downed trees injure Boundary Waters campers
At least three sets of campers on different lakes in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness required emergency rescues Tuesday, after a line of intense thunderstorms blew across the region.
Officials were not sure late Tuesday if additional victims were still stranded in the wilderness.
“We’ve got boats and square stern canoes going out and Forest Service planes flying to see if we have more victims out there. We just don’t know how extensive the damage was from this storm,’’ said Curt Erickson, first lieutenant for the St. Louis County Rescue Squad.
At least five people were pinned when a tree fell on tents at a campsite on Loon Lake, Erickson said. Two women in serious condition with multiple injuries were flown by float plane to Ely, where they were transferred to area hospitals, Erickson said.
At least two other victims from that campsite were taken by boat to Crane Lake, where they, too, were taken to local hospitals for treatment of their injuries.
“It took quite a while just to get them out from under the tree,’’ Erickson said.
Earlier Tuesday in a separate but nearby incident, two people camped on Lac La Croix were struck by a falling tree and injured. The victims were brought by boat to Crane Lake and taken to the Virginia hospital by ambulance after suffering “non-life-threatening injuries.”
The sheriff’s office identified the injured as Hayden Toups, 13, of Brusly, La., and Kirk Sanchez, 47, of Port Allen, La., part of a group of 17 campers from that state.
Strong storms late Monday and early Tuesday crossed North Dakota and northern Minnesota.
Record rainfall and 70- to 80-mph winds battered the northern Red River Valley, especially between Larimore, N.D., and Crookston, Minn.
The National Weather Service said winds higher than 80 mph were recorded in Crookston.
There was flooding in the streets of Grand Forks, N.D., after rainfall set an official July 21 record of 2.74 inches, breaking the mark of 2.03 inches set in 1966.
Funnel clouds were reported west of Larimore and west of Crookston just before 9 p.m.
Hail measuring 1.75 inches in diameter was reported east of Larimore.
More than 4 inches of rain fell in Baudette overnight and over an inch in International Falls, likely spurring additional challenges along the already flooded border waters. Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods had begun to drop until the latest deluge but now are expected to rise again.
Minnesota Power saw about 10,000 outages at its peak, spanning its whole service area of International Falls to Little Falls.
"It's unusual for us for it to hit across the entire service area," Kelley Eldien, senior communication specialist with Minnesota Power, said Tuesday.
St. Louis County Undersheriff Dave Phillips said the damage reported Tuesday from strong winds was eerily similar to July 4, 1999, when ferocious straight-line winds downed millions of trees across the Boundary Waters and injured many campers, stranding some for several days.
“It really does remind me of that,’’ Phillips said.
Because the Boundary Waters area is so remote, it often takes several hours, sometimes more than a day, for injured parties to notify authorities of problems, although the use of cellphones and emergency locator beacons is becoming more common in the 1.1 million-acre federal wilderness.
It was a transmission from an emergency locator beacon that led officials to yet another Boundary Waters campsite Tuesday afternoon, between Hudson and Insula lakes northeast of Ely.
Erickson said a U.S. Forest Service Beaver float plane was dispatched with a sheriff’s deputy and an Ely paramedic to the call of a 17-year-old boy who was ill or injured. The teen was part of larger group kayaking in the area. Erickson said it was unclear whether that rescue was related to the storm.
“I want to stress the great cooperation we’ve had with local first responders and the sheriff’s departments and especially the local outfitters. We had local outfitters out here transporting these people,” Erickson said.
Sandy Skrien, acting supervisor for the Superior National Forest that manages the BWCAW, said she had heard of no additional campers in peril and that all of the wilderness field crews were reported safe.
The National Weather Service in Duluth said the line of intense thunderstorms formed in west-central North Dakota on Monday afternoon and raced east at about 50 mph with widespread damaging winds clocked at up to 70 mph. The phenomenon, called a derecho, was very similar to the one that struck the Boundary Waters in 1999. Both of the events, which include intense downbursts of wind at ground level, were triggered by unusually hot, unstable weather immediately before the storms formed.
The weather service reported widespread damage across the region early Tuesday, with many trees fallen on vehicles and buildings, boats overturned at their docks, and of winds destroying several hangars and an aircraft at the Eveleth-Virginia airport when the storm blew through at about 1 a.m.
The storm caused trees to tip over, uprooted, and to snap-off halfway up, indicating powerful wind bursts.
An estimated 200 trees were damaged at a golf course outside International Falls, the weather service reported, and took a roof off a house near Pelland Junction, an area hard hit by flooding rivers last month.
Dozens of trees were reported down early Tuesday across Highway 1 between Ely and Isabella as well as across the Gunflint Trail northwest of Grand Marais.
Kevin Bonham and Jessie Perrine contributed to this report.