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UPDATE: Storms do severe damage in northwest Wisconsin

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UPDATE: Storms do severe damage in northwest Wisconsin
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

An 11-year-old girl was killed Friday night when a tree feel on her at a Burnett County, Wis., campground during a storm with winds up to 100 mph that cast a path of destruction across Northwestern Wisconsin.

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The death of a Burnett County man of an apparent heart attack also might have been related to the storm, according to Brian Satula, administrator of the Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center.

Dawn Sargent, public information officer for the county, said 39 people were injured in the storm, three critically. The critically injured victims were taken to hospitals in Eau Claire, Wis. Most of the others were treated and released, Satula reported in a news release.

Crews were going door-to-door to check on residents, and neighbors were asked to check on each other.

"It's a mess," Sargent said. "We have some pretty widespread damage throughout the county. We've got numerous roads that are blocked due to the falling trees and debris."

Sargent said the entire county was hard hit in the storm, with three-quarters of the county, particularly in the north, sustaining significant damage. The Grantsburg, Yellow Lake and Danbury areas sustained the heaviest damage.

Thanks to assistance from snowplow drivers, state and county highways were mostly clear of trees in driving lanes by midday; many town roads still were reduced to one lane -- or were impassable -- because of downed trees.

A few miles west of Danbury on Wisconsin Highway 77, entire pine plantations on both sides of the highway were leveled. Passers-by stopped their cars on the shoulders of the road to look at the damage and take pictures.

At Riverside Landing, a canoe landing in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway a few miles north of Danbury on Wisconsin Highway 35, massive trees littered the launching area and had crushed a trailer belonging to Pardun's Canoe Rental and Shuttle Service of Danbury.

Two buses from Pardun's were trapped in the launch area, unable to leave because of downed trees blocking the exit; one bus had a smashed windshield.

Guy Pardun, owner of Pardun's Canoe Rental and Shuttle Service in Danbury, said rangers from the National Scenic Riverway were searching for two canoeists on Saturday, though they didn't have any specific knowledge that they had been harmed.

"We don't have anyone that's technically missing at this point," Pardun said, "but we do have a couple that we hope are OK."

Thee two were on overnight camping trips, one due back todaySunday and the other on Tuesday, and Pardun's hadn't heard from them as of Saturday evening.

Pardun said his company was just getting a group of 20 canoeists into the river Friday night when the straight-line winds came through. Toppled trees crushed the vans but, amazingly, no one was hurt, he said.

It took chainsaws and backup transportation to get the would-be canoeists and campers to his own home, Pardun said, where they slept on the floor and on beach chairs.

Burnett County has a resident population of 17,000, but with holiday visitors the weekend population was probably closer to 80,000, according to Sheriff Dean Roland. Power was out throughout the county during the night but was gradually being restored. Sargent didn't have official numbers from power companies, but said, "Probably the whole county was black until 3:30 or 4 this morning."

When the storm hit, Steve Conrow and Lori Pietz and their 16-year-old daughter, Samantha Perius, were at the home they rent on County Highway D about four miles north of Siren.

"Everything turned orange, and then, in a minute, it broke," Conrow said.

"It just hit in seconds -- no warning, nothing," Pietz said. "Things were flying. ... We ran to the basement, and that's when the tree hit the house."

That tree was a massive pine that once stood tall at the southwest corner of the home. After the storm passed, it was slumped across the home."

They were not hurt, and their home -- while damaged, with some punctures in the roof and no power -- remained habitable.

In the backyard, dozens of trees were uprooted, toppled in a general southwest-to-northeast direction. Through a maze of downed branches, Conrow could spot one of his homemade deer-hunting tree stands, still standing strong amid the devastation. A sign of good craftsmanship, he noted wryly -- one bright spot in a long day of cleaning up.

The damage in Burnett County was caused by widespread straight-line winds, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth, which conducted ground and aerial surveys of the area. Indicators of "non-tornadic" winds included damage blown down in a northeast or east direction, the weather service reported. Wind gusts probably reached 60 to 80 mph.

Several corridors of intense damage were caused by isolated gusts of more than 100 mph, according to the weather service. Entire stands of healthy pine trees were leveled, their trunks snapped off, in patches of an acre or more.

Virginia King, whose family has owned Log Cabin Hollow on Yellow Lake for 48 years, estimated 70 percent of the trailers at the site were destroyed. That included the trailer in which Harold and Mary Buckentin, a Houlton, Minn., couple in their 80s, were holed up when it collapsed under the weight of a tree.

"The place they were at was the only place that they would have lived," King said.

Mary Buckentin suffered a gash from flying debris, King said, but otherwise they were uninjured. But she was shaken up, and their son, Don Buckentin of Oakdale, Minn., whose trailer also was destroyed, took them home on Saturday.

On the other side of the park, which has 25 lots, Dan and Lory Deasy of Chippewa Falls, Wis., arrived on Saturday after being warned away Friday evening. Their trailer also was collapsed under a tree, although Dan was able to retrieve a few items from the back side.

"I'm just waiting for the insurance adjuster to come and look at it Tuesday or Wednesday, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be a write-off," Dan Deasy said.

King had a place for them to stay Saturday night, and as soon as possible they'd be looking for another trailer, he said.

About 40 people were in the campground when the storm hit around 7:30 p.m. Friday, King said. "By the time I got into my back bar, everything was flying. I didn't know what it was. I just knew that it wasn't normal, because I could see trees flying and glass breaking."

Many of the guests took refuge under an open pavilion, and people who couldn't return to their trailers spent the night with other guests. "Everybody took care of everybody last night," she said.

Palmer Hanson, 54, of Prescott, Wis., arrived about an hour after the storm hit. "When we actually got here, we had to park up at the highway and crawl through trees to get down here," he said.

"I've seen straight-line winds, but I've never seen anything like this," said Hanson, who has been coming to the campground for 20 years.

Just up Log Pine Road, Dan and Lorrie Friberg of South St. Paul, Minn., had just arrived to find the lane to their future retirement home covered with trees. Fallen trees covered their shed and garage and pretty much all of the oak and pine trees on the five-acre property they purchased three years ago. They picked their way up the lane with their dogs, Lizy and Leo, to find the house relatively unscathed.

But the roof was damaged and two windows were broken. "I'll be getting a new roof. I'll get a metal roof," Dan Friberg said.

"We were open for business until 7 p.m. last night, and at 7 p.m. (the storm) put us down," said Burnett County Sheriff Roland. "There's a lot of people who can't get gas, boat ramps closed due to fallen trees, trails closed due to fallen trees."

"In Grantsburg, large trees were uprooted, and that pulled up underground natural gas lines, so the entire village has been shut down until power is restored" and gas line concerns are addressed," Roland said.

The town was not evacuated, but law enforcement personnel had checkpoints at all roads leading into town.

In Solon Springs, two houses and several outbuildings were destroyed, according to the state emergency agency. At the airport, the roof of a hangar was blown off and the wall collapsed, dropping the building on a single-engine plane.

The Red Lake Resort in Wascott was damaged, Satula said.

At least 12,000 homes in Burnett and Washburn counties were without power, the state agency said, and there's no word on when power will be fully restored.

Problems were reported with phone and 911 lines in Douglas County, according to the Emergency Operations Center. The 911 lines were rerouted to Bayfield County.

Local utilities estimated that about 400 homes in remote areas of Douglas County were without power this afternoon and that restoration of power might take several days.

Washburn County Sheriff Terry Dryden reported widespread tree damage and power lines down in the Minong area, and in the townships of Brooklyn, Chicog, Casey and Minong. There were only minor injuries reported, and no widespread structural damage in Washburn County, he said.

Siren was the site of a deadly tornado in June 2001 that claimed three lives, destroyed 167 homes and damaged 280 others. Virtually the entire business area along Wisconsin Highway 35 in Siren was wiped out, including two hotels, a theater, restaurants, a four-store mall and the youth ice arena.

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