Power outages stretching into the second day Tuesday created issues for emergency personnel looking to assist those who needed help.

One concern arising as a result of widespread power loss is the potential for residents to be stranded without access to call for emergency assistance.

Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl said although some people might have access to a cellphone charger designed for use in their vehicles, not everyone owns one. As the hours without power tick by, cellphone batteries might be dwindling.

"That's kind of a real tough situation for all of us," Dahl said.

Dahl said deputies were driving around to try to determine whether anyone remains blocked in by power lines or fallen trees, but neighbors checking on neighbors is still the best way to make sure everyone gets the help they need.

"We rely so much on our electronics, and then when our electronics fail us, what do we do?" Dahl said. "We're concerned about people that are bedridden, people that are on oxygen. ... Hopefully people are good enough to check on their neighbors in making sure they're OK."

Dahl said another concern for emergency personnel is access to people in need of medical care. The sheriff's office responded to a medical call early Tuesday morning of a person who'd fallen and may have broken a hip.

"They couldn't get out of their house because obviously they can't move, and the emergency vehicles can't get in because of the trees," Dahl said.

Personnel were able to gain access to the patient, Dahl said, although situations like this one could occur as long as driveways remain impassable. This is one of the reasons the county is organizing rapid response teams to assist private property owners with cleanup, he said.

Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray said highway department crews were clearing roads for both emergency personnel and the power companies as fast as possible, but also wanted to ensure they weren't in the way of those working to restore power.

Dahl is asking the community in the short term to follow that lead and stay out of affected areas if possible to help responding crews complete work faster.

"We've seen a lot of people that are interested in looking at the damage," Dahl said. "Let the crews do what they do, let them get the electricity back up and running. If they're dodging cars all the time, with people that really don't have to be there, it takes time away from what they're doing."

In the long term, Dahl said he hopes residents understand the damage from this storm will require an extensive and potentially lengthy recovery period.

"I tell people that this isn't a sprint," Dahl said. "We could see ourselves plucking away at trees for many months or up to a year, just trying to knock them down and get them cut up. The damage is just incredible."

According to Minnesota Power's online outage monitor, as of 6 p.m. Tuesday, 4,000 customers were without power. Kelley Eldien, senior communications specialist, said crews hadn't made much headway since Monday night.

Crews are working diligently to remove felled trees and branches to even get to broken power lines, which then need to be replaced, Eldien said.

"We continue to keep working," Eldien said. "I guess there's just rows and rows of poles taken down."

All the broken poles need to be replaced before Minnesota Power can energize the lines, Eldien said, which makes the process slow. All the new utility poles the company will need are in the Brainerd lakes area and ready to be erected. Noon on Thursday is still the company's "best estimate for widespread power restoration."

Tuesday, Minnesota Power reported via a press release it had restored power to Bertha and Royalton. Its work continues to focus on the heavily damaged areas of Gull Lake, Round Lake, Pine Beach, Sylvan, Hewitt, rural Nisswa, rural Park Rapids and Motley.

More than 100 personnel from Minnesota Power, mutual aid utilities and contractors are assisting the power restoration effort. Trees have broken more than 100 power poles and 100 transformers in the area.

According to Crow Wing Power's online outage monitor, as of 6 p.m. Tuesday, 1,600 customers were without power. That's down from about 4,700 at 6 p.m. Monday.

Char Kinzer, public relations manager, said crews had repaired sections that would bring a large number of customers back on. Now, it's a slower process of fixing situations requiring a lot of attention and time.

Customers without power Tuesday will still have "several days" before their power comes back on, Kinzer said. Crews are rebuilding power lines and installing new equipment, so there's a lot of "brand new building" going on.

"I just really feel badly for them, but there's nothing much we can do, but just keep plugging away," Kinzer said.

Tuesday afternoon, four Brainerd Public Utilities crews worked to restore power to four customers without power, BPU Superintendent Scott Magnuson said. About 20 other customers were waiting for electricians to finish their work so BPU could reconnect them and turn their power on.

"We're looking pretty good, the end is definitely in sight," Magnuson said. "We've still got tree work to do, but as far as getting the power back on, we're almost done."

There's also an irony in the fact some BPU workers live outside of Brainerd and are still without power at their homes as they work to restore power to BPU customers, Magnuson said.

 

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett.

 

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dispatchchelsey.