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Disaster declaration approved by the Kandiyohi County Board following major storms last week

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution declaring a disaster in the county after the harsh weather last week. The resolution is the first step in the process to obtain possible state funding to help pay for damage to public infrastructure and facilities caused by the weather. There is also the chance of federal funding if the state as a whole declares a disaster.

Lightning strikes illuminate the sky over the Middle Fork Crow River near Spicer the evening of Thursday, May 12, 2022.
Lightning strikes illuminate the sky over the Middle Fork Crow River near Spicer the evening of Thursday, May 12, 2022. The Kandiyohi County Board declared a disaster in the county at Tuesday's meeting, which is the first step in getting state funding to help fix damage done to public infrastructure and facilities.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — After rounds of severe weather late last week left damage strewn across Kandiyohi County, the County Board officially declared a disaster at its meeting Tuesday, starting the process of perhaps receiving state funds to help pay for repairs and cleanup of public infrastructure and facilities.

Stephanie Felt, county emergency management director, said, based on early estimates, approximately $2.6 million in damage was done to public infrastructure and facilities in last week's storms. After insurance kicks in, there is still currently about $200,000 of work needing to be funded. Felt said disaster reports are still coming in, so the final estimate could rise.

"We are still getting reports from townships," Felt said. "We're not sure what insurance will cover."

With the disaster declaration approved, it will start the state's process in assessing the county's damage. First, the county needs to have suffered at least $90,000 in damages. Then it has to be determined what damage costs are qualified expenses under state and federal rules. The county declaration is also a step toward a statewide disaster declaration that could bring in federal monies. To be eligible for federal funds, the county will need at least $170,000 in damages.

"Time is of the essence" for damage reports to come in, Felt said.

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Damage has been reported across the county. Some Sheriff's Office squad cars suffered hail damage, as did most of the buildings at Diamond Lake County Park, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl. The Glacial Lakes Sanitary Sewer and Water District lost power, which required staff having to manually turn on the pump stations to keep the system running. The overtime county staff worked can also be considered an eligible cost. The Kandiyohi and Meeker County Humane Society in Willmar had some hail damage as well.

"A lot of hail damage," Kleindl said, though he feels grateful the damage wasn't worse.

Ryan Leif Erickson, 63, had been a Blomkest volunteer firefighter since the age of 18. He died in the line of duty Thursday when a large grain bin was blown over by the high winds and fell on him as he was preparing to leave his farm to monitor storms.

Commissioner Duane Anderson, who personally suffered significant hail damage on his property in rural Lake Lillian, took a few minutes to remember Ryan Erickson, the Blomkest volunteer firefighter who was killed in the line of duty Thursday, when he was preparing to leave to monitor storms. Anderson said he has known Erickson for years. He served on the Lake Lillian Township Board for years as well as serving on the fire department.

"He is going to very sorely missed," Anderson said. "It is really sad. It is going to be a big loss for the Blomkest area."

There has been some concern raised about the county's response to the severe weather, specifically decisions to sound the sirens or not Thursday evening. Sheriff Eric Holien said he and the emergency management staff are looking into some possible hiccups that might have occurred. One round of storms that came through ended up impacting nearly the entire county at the same time, almost overwhelming the county's storm spotting and reporting capabilities.

The county sends out trained spotters, usually local law enforcement or firefighters, during severe weather because they can sometimes pick up dangerous weather that the National Weather Service radar does not. There was so much happening at one time Thursday that there were difficulties in getting information across to Sheriff's Office dispatch, which activates the storm sirens.

"Radio traffic was so busy people couldn't get in," Holien said, adding that there was only about 30 seconds when the radios were possibly malfunctioning, something that is being addressed.

He also said some of the tornadic activity that had been reported by metro newscasts was never shared by the weather service or seen by the county's trained weather spotters. The National Weather Service also never mentioned the weather in Pennock that caused major damage, Holien said.

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"Is there possibly human error? Are there protocols we have to look at to change or do differently? Absolutely," Holien said. "Going forward we have to make sure if there are 70 mph winds, just tell us to sound the sirens."

Holien also urges county residents to sign up for the SMART 911 system , which sends out automatic emergency warnings to people's phones.

"We would like to see every Kandiyohi County resident on it," Holien said. "We'll send out that page immediately when bad weather starts moving in; you are notified at the same time as the fire departments are notified."

The public also needs to take some responsibility for their own safety, Holien said.

"When you know the weather is bad and you can see these storm fronts moving in, don't be outside watching it. Seek shelter, get in the basement. Do the right thing," Holien said. "Leave the weather spotting to the weather spotters."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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