GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Strong storms moved across parts of Minnesota early Thursday, unleashing high winds that led to the deaths of two campers in the BWCA, plus downed trees and widespread damage elsewhere in the state.
Emergency responders worked to evacuate several injured campers from the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota where a strong storm knocked down trees and caused other damage.
Authorities confirm two people died and two others were badly injured while camping on the shores of Basswood Lake near the Canadian border. Northern Tier High Adventure Program General Manager John Van Deese tells KARE 11 those killed were 13-year-old Christian Sanchez of Lewisville, TX and 39-year-old Rorth Lac of Carrollton, TX. They were among a group of nine campers from Texas on their last night of a BWCA canoe trip.
The two injured campers, youth scouts from Texas, were flown out by a U.S. Forest Service floatplane. One is at St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth, while the other is being cared for at the hospital in Ely. The injuries suffered by both are said to be non-life threatening.
Remaining campers were picked up later Thursday morning by guide boats from Moose Lake after crews cleared trees to reach them.
“This is a very difficult time for our Scouting family," read a statement from the Boy Scouts of America. “The safety and well-being of our participants is our top priority. Immediately following the radio distress call, we contacted the local authorities for support, and began making contact with all crews on-site to offer assistance and assure the safety of all involved.”
“We are also mindful of the Scouts present on the outing and the impact the incident had on them, and will be offering grief counseling to our members and volunteers," read the statement. "Please join us in keeping these families in your thoughts.”
Van Deese says about 4,000 scouts and adult volunteers pass through the Ely Northern Tier High Adventure Program between June and late July each summer, with an additional 1,000 paddling out of two bases in Canada.
The same system also resulted in four campers being hurt when thunderstorms packing strong winds ripped through northwestern Wisconsin.
The Bayfield County Sheriff's Office says the campers were at Birch Grove Campground in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest when the storms hit early Thursday. The four were taken by ambulance with non-life-threatening injuries.
Authorities say it took rescue crews many hours to clear roads to get help to the campers along with others in the national forest.
The U.S. Forest Service says the Washburn Ranger District sustained heavy tree damage. Forest Service personnel are working with saw teams and heavy equipment to get access to recreation areas.
National Forest roads, trails and developed recreation sites north of Highway 2 are closed until further notice, because of heavy damage and safety risk to the public.
The storm, which packed destructive winds knocked down trees and power lines elsewhere in Minnesota, left tens of thousands of people without service from Duluth to the Twin Cities on what could be the hottest day of the year.
In the Twin Cities, the impact is more in the form of power outages on a day where heat indexes are expected to top 105 degrees. Winds knocked down trees and limbs that hit power lines, leaving at least 22,000 people without electricity as of 7 a.m.
In Duluth, winds were measured at 69 miles per hour at the airport, felling trees that blocked streets. In one case a traffic signal was knocked down. City officials advised against travel because of dangerous power lines and debris in the streets. At least 55,000 people are without power in the northland.
Crews are working to restore more than 350 outages in parts of eight counties that Lake Country Power serves.
Lakes States Construction has also been called in to help.
“It’s a tangled mess,” said Todd Johnson, Lake County Power’s Director of Operations. “We’ve seen several severe storm systems blow through the area this summer, but this one is by far the worst – and most widespread.“
The Duluth school district is closed, and all summer activities have been called off due to storm damage.
In Beltrami County, crews were out clearing roads of debris as the sun rose Thursday. Sirens were sounded early when the National Weather Service warned of a thunderstorm with winds of up to 80 miles per hour. Sheriff's officials say they have no reports of serious injuries.
Authorities urged citizens to take it slow when clearing debris because of the dangerous heat and humidity.