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Beloit cleans up after Tuesday morning storm

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Marcia Nelesen
July 25, 2012

— One of the strongest windstorms in recent memory swept along the Wisconsin/Illinois border early Tuesday morning, toppling trees and leaving thousands without electricity.

Beloit activated its plan for an emergency headquarters and called for mutual aid to help answer more than 220 emergency calls in six hours.

No injuries were reported, but property damage was significant, especially to homes and cars, said Beth Jacobsen, assistant to the Beloit city manager.

The west side of Beloit was hardest hit.

About 7,000 Alliant Energy customers were out of service at 5 a.m. About 1,460 still were without power at about 3:45 p.m., according to Alliant's website.

About 4,800 Rock Energy Cooperative customers lost power, with the majority of those—4,500—in the Illinois service area, mostly South Beloit, Ill., and Rockford, Ill. As of 4 p.m., about 1,800 members remained without power. Most of the outages were expected to be resolved by early evening, according to a news release from the cooperative.

The majority of outages were caused by trees falling on wires.

The early morning storm whipped through Lafayette County into Rock County with winds gusting between 50 and 60 mph.

The storm that hit Beloit was characterized as "straight-line wind" of about 52 mph, Jacobsen said.

"It's been a long time since one this severe hit the city," Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said.

The city opened an emergency operations center in its fire department headquarters, where rescue, city and county officials and representatives of energy companies gathered to coordinate efforts.

A computer projected onto the wall images of radar tracking another possible storm.

About 80 emergency workers from fire departments as far away as Fitchburg and including Janesville and Edgerton reported to Beloit to help put out house fires, deal with downed power lines and remove debris to open streets.

The city's focus was public infrastructure and getting streets open. About two dozen public workers and property inspectors helped remove debris, Jacobsen said.

The city will haul away debris that residents pile on terraces if the branches are less than 4 inches in diameter. Terrace trees are the city's responsibility.

Complicating matters is the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that was recently found in Janesville. The wood from downed trees and limbs will be chipped and kept until the city researches what to do with it, Jacobsen said.

In Green County, the storm blew down numerous trees and power lines, and a car dealership in Monroe had a window blown out, according to a report from Wisconsin Emergency Management. Some scattered power outages were reported.

In Beloit, the YMCA sustained minor roof damage. Trees and limbs fell on houses and cars.

Even as late as 11 a.m., trees and limbs blocked streets, especially in the Portland Avenue area. Vehicles navigating streets crunched branches and steered to avoid police tape or barricades. Limbs hung overhead, snarled in other tree branches or power lines.

"They call that the widow maker," a man putting a tarp on a roof said, nodding to a limb snagged high overhead.

Debris scattered over lawns. Residents raked, gathered branches and piled them on their terraces, which started resembling green snow banks. Emergency lights flashed.

A massive elm tree at the corner of Townline Avenue and Merrill Street lay across the road, its branches caught in a power line and transformer. Its massive roots were upended, covered with a carpet of sod. Slabs of sidewalk were heaved.

Around the corner, the air smelled of Christmas, with a large pine sheared in half and a second pine leaning into a maple tree.

Tom Brogan, 1809 Merrill St., said he had heard the wind blowing early in the morning and saw continuous lightning. He did not hear the cracking of the trees and said it must have mixed with the thunder.

He hauled out his chainsaw when his wife couldn't get to work because of the fallen limbs.

At 1833 McKinley Ave., two men put a tarp over a hole in a roof.

Four to five limbs at least 6 inches in diameter and 20 to 30 feet long had ripped from a nearby tree. The limbs crashed onto the nearby home and lawn.

A section of the ranch's fascia and soffit was hanging loose, exposing the wood beneath.

The home's resident, Julie Horvath, was on the phone with her insurance company and documenting the damage with photos.

Paul Siverhus of C & J Home Improvements and Julie's dad, John, were on the roof.

Julie said she heard the cracks outside in front and then over her head. About that time, she grabbed her dog and headed for the basement.



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