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Storms Cause Millions In Damage; Twin Cities At Standstill

July 24, 1987

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Tornadoes and high winds damaged as many as 300 houses in a Twin Cities suburb as torrential rains from a fierce summer storm killed two people, turned streets into rivers and left parts of the metropolitan area paralyzed today.

An elderly man drowned in a basement when a wall caved in and another man was swept away after he removed a barricade and drove onto a street flooded by Thursday night’s storm, officials said. Several people were injured by broken glass from windows shattered by 60- to 70-mph winds.

In northeastern Minnesota, a vacationing Florida man and his son were killed when lightning struck a campsite in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The Lake County Sheriff’s Department identified those killed Thursday as Fred Merry, 43, and his son, Brian, 13, both of Maitlan, Fla. Two relatives suffered minor burns.

″I think the Lord is sending down the great flood - I’m just waiting for Noah’s Ark to come floating by,″ said Robert Wise, 21, stranded at a Minneapolis restaurant when his car stalled in a flooded street.

In suburban Maple Grove, a tornado destroyed as many as 10 houses, inflicted major damage on as many as 100, and lesser damage to 100 to 200 more, said Irene Koski, assistant to the city administrator.

Damage to the suburb was estimated at $5 million, she said.

Civil defense sirens sounded about 20 minutes before the tornado struck, giving people enough time to take shelter, said Lt. Ron Markgraf of the city Police Department.

Gov. Rudy Perpich planned to declare a state of emergency for the entire state, state Public Safety Commissioner Paul Tschida said today.

″It’s impossible at this point to determine just which counties are involved,″ Tschida said.

Tschida said it is expected to take 10 days to two weeks before a damage assessment is completed, and Perpich makes his request for federal help.

Control Data Corp.’s world headquarters in suburban Bloomington were closed until at least noon today because company officials said nearby roads were under water, and thousands of employees were told to stay home.

Employees of Southdale Mall, which claims to be the nation’s oldest shopping mall, moved to higher floors and put merchandise on tables to get it off the floor as water gushed down stairways.

Portions of some interstates in the area remained closed today because of flooding and hundreds of vehicles that stalled or were caught in the storms remained in ditches and along roadsides. A section of barrier on Interstate 35W just south of downtown caved in, forcing crews to block off one lane during the rush hour.

Some residents of Maple Grove were home when the storm demolished their houses, yet escaped serious injuries. ″It was probably luck,″ Markgraf said. ″We were very, very fortunate.″

Damage was confined to a six-block area that was cordoned off to prevent looting, he said.

Minneapolis had more than 10 inches of rain between early evening and midnight Thursday, and authorities said some south Minneapolis basements collected up to 8 feet of water.

The body of a 78-year-old man was found in the basement of his south Minneapolis home, authorities said. He apparently died when the wall caved in from heavy rainfall.

The body of a man who apparently bypassed a barricade to get onto a flooded street was found today in the western suburb of Hopkins, officials said. He got out of his car when it was stranded and was swept into a creek.

The fire department responded to 50 or 60 calls about collapsed basements overnight, said David Williams, communications supervisor with the Minneapolis 911 emergency headquarters.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport shut down at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, and widespread power and telephone outages were reported. The airport reopened at 4 a.m., said airport police dispatcher Susan McKechnie.

″It’s crowded. Flights are delayed. People are sleeping on the floor,″ she said.

Golf ball-sized hail also pummeled the area, and the State Patrol closed parts of at least a dozen streets and highways flooded with water 3 to 4 feet deep.

Michael Postle, inspector with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department, said the weather was ″comparable to a major winter storm in terms of shutting down an entire metropolitan area of seven counties and 2 million people.

″Traffic is virtually impassable on all highways and sidestreets. Cars are actually floating. Nowhere in recollection have we had storms like this,″ he said late Thursday night.

Mary Winstead, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross, said a shelter was set up in Minneapolis for people whose residences were unsafe.

Today’s forecast called for more showers and thunderstorms, some severe, with clearing in the afternoon.

Northern States Power Co. spokesman Tom Bushee said about 80,000 customers were without power at various times. As of 8:30 a.m. today, about 24,000 customers still had no power, he said, and some customers in hard-hit areas might be without power through the weekend.

Widespread phone outages also were reported, but most service was restored this morning, said Northwestern Bell spokesman John Walker.

Minneapolis’ heavy rain Thursday broke the city’s 24-hour rainfall record of 7.80 inches, set July 26-27, 1892, the National Weather Service said.