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As area cleans up, more storms on the way

Crews in the Grand Forks area were looking at spending weeks cleaning up damage from a severe storm that hit Tuesday morning as another storm was threatening to bring flash flooding, damaging hail and tornadoes to the Red River Valley.

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Jeremy Johnson, a football player from Bottineau, walks back to his dorm on the UND campus after football camp was cut short at Memorial Stadium Tuesday morning due to stormy weather.photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Crews in the Grand Forks area were looking at spending weeks cleaning up damage from a severe storm that hit Tuesday morning as another storm was threatening to bring flash flooding, damaging hail and tornadoes to the Red River Valley.

The first round of storms moved into northeast North Dakota around 7 a.m. Tuesday. Though the storm initially didn’t pack much of a punch, winds trailing behind the system reached 70 mph and downed power lines and trees, causing power outages for roughly 10,000 customers in the Red River Valley, according to area utilities.

Workers were out in the Grand Forks area cleaning up branches and downed trees. Some of the branches blocked roads in residential areas, Grand Forks streets and facility manager Mark Aubol said.

The roads were cleared, but cleaning the branches around town could take at least three weeks, Aubol said. Winds damaged trees in almost every part of the city.

“The wind didn’t pick favorites,” he said. “We’ll reassess everything again tomorrow.”

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Bonita Szarkowski of Grand Forks was driving past a downed tree covering the front yard of a North Fourth Street home and described dodging overturned garbage cans behind the wheel.

“I was just coming around and said, ‘Oh my God,’ ” she said. “I slept through it, I guess. It was kind of a shock to see this. How are they going to get out of their house?"

A Tuesday night storm was expected to be worse, with meteorologists forecasting wind gusts of 80 mph and 2-inch hail.

Assessing the damage UND officials and the Grand Forks Police Department both warned residents to be aware of downed trees and branches. UND spokesman Peter Johnson said he was out assessing the damage across campus, but the worst he saw was a downed tree by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at 306 Hamline St. that damaged a car. Otherwise, most of the damage has been limited to broken branches.

“There is definitely going to be some cleanup,” he said, adding there was no damage to buildings.

Several outages left customers without power in the region. In Grand Forks, nearly 4,800 Xcel Energy customers lost power Tuesday morning -- about 4,100 live near Altru Hospital.

Outages included several Altru locations.

About 4,100 other Xcel customers in the Larimore, Buxton, Thompson and Hatton areas also reported outages. About 270 Nodak Electric customers in Grand Forks, Bensen, Griggs, Pembina, Traill, Walsh, Ramsey and Eddy counties also lost power.

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Most people had electricity restored by the afternoon, though crews were working to restore power to about 2,000 customers in the northern Valley, including 1,500 in Grand Forks.

Second wave The first set of storms didn’t bring much rain to Grand Forks -- the National Weather Service measured about 0.13 inches in Grand Forks.

“For the city of Grand Forks, the stuff that is going through (in the morning) will likely have drained out of the streets, and it won’t be a factor in round one,” weather service meteorologist Pete Speicher said. “Now for the rural areas, it will be a factor because it is going to help increase the soil moisture. So when the second round comes (Tuesday night), you could see some ponding in the areas that see a lot of rain today.”

Thunderstorms were forecast to form Tuesday afternoon or early evening, bringing with it wind gusts of 80 mph, 2-inch hail, flash flooding and tornadoes, according to the weather service.

“If it is raining hard enough, those places will fill up for three or four hours and then drain,” Speicher said of flood-prone areas in Grand Forks, adding rain could compound ponding in the Devils Lake basin and northern Red River Valley where rainfall last week caused some soil to be saturated.

The greatest risk for tornadoes was forecast for the far southeast part of North Dakota, northeast South Dakota and south central Minnesota, while tornadoes in the northern Valley were less likely.

The Fargo area, southeast Polk, south Red Lake and far southeast Pennington counties could see more than 4 inches of rain by Wednesday morning.

Expect 2 to 4 inches of rain for most of the Red River Valley, including Grand Forks, the weather service said.

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It looks like this won’t be the last of rain for the near future, according to the weather service. Periods of showers should pop up throughout the week across the region. There is at least a 20 percent chance of rain every day in Grand Forks through Saturday.

Those with tree damage on city berms are asked to call the Grand Forks Park District at (701) 746-2750. Broken branches and trees in yards can be taken to sanitation facility locations at 2701 N. 69th St., 5500 54th Ave. N. or the Public Works Facility at 724 N. 47th St.

For a fee, residents can also put in a work order for a pickup from Public Works at (701) 738-8740.

Herald reporter Sam Easter contributed to this story.

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