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Digging out

Rochester and the surrounding region is struggling to dig out from Thursday's ferocious blizzard that blew about 10 inches of wet snow through the area and left many without power.

The heavy snow pulled down many trees and power lines, which left hundreds of homes temporarily without electricity. Rochester Public Utilities said late Friday afternoon that about 500 customers still were without power and that some would not be restored until Saturday. Even as crews worked, power lines continued to go down on Friday.

People's Energy Cooperative, which serves many smaller communities and rural customers around Rochester, faced even greater challenges to restore power to about 1,115 customers cut off by the storm. That number had been greater than 1,500 earlier in the day.

"It's been pretty hectic," said People's Director of Member Relations Teresa Whitcome on Friday. "The outages are scattered everywhere. We have 100 out here and 100 out there."

People's crews were working around Kasson, Marion Township, Chatfield, Viola, Dover, Elba, Genoa and Oronoco with the goal of restoring power in those areas by Friday night. Once those areas were back up and running, the plan was to move on to work in the Lake Zumbro and West Albany areas.


Even though the snow had stopped falling the night before, highways such as U.S. 52, U.S. 14 and I-90 remained slick and treacherous. While plows had removed most of the snow, what was left was packed down into a glazed skating rink. The Minnesota State Patrol advised drivers to stay off the highways and warned that conditions are not expected to improve for several days.

"We're receiving reports from veteran troopers in several areas of the state of conditions that are as bad as they've seen in 25 years," said State Patrol Lt. Col. Matt Langer. "We need motorists to avoid traveling unless it's absolutely necessary. It is simply too dangerous right now and MnDOT (the Minnesota Department of Transportation) needs room to clear the roads of snow and ice."

Even as law enforcement vehicles worked to slow down highway traffic, cars and semi-trucks continued to slide off the road and becoming stuck. Blowing snow also continued to cause occasional white-out conditions that obscured drivers' vision.

Southbound I-35 between Owatonna and Albert Lea remained closed as of late Friday afternoon. The highway reopening and other road updates were set to be announced on MnDOT's Southeast Minnesota Twitter account, @mndotsoutheast. MnDOT also broadcasts road conditions on its website, 511mn.org .

Area towing services, such as Virgil's and Pulver's, were extremely busy Friday. Pulver's had all seven of its trucks out working to pull out struck semis around Pine Island, Hayfield and other rural areas.

While Pulver's was out on the highways pulling out semis, Virgil's was scrambling around Rochester to help stranded motorists like Jim Blackwell. Blackwell, a Rochester pharmacist on vacation, was out running errands and was going through the Burger King drive-through on North Broadway. That's when things went askew.

"I pulling up to the window, when the car in front of me stopped. I had to back up and then I just went sliding," he said, while watching the Virgil's crew attempt to pull his vehicle out of the snowdrift where was wedged.

"In more than 40 years of driving, I've never been stuck before," he marveled as the tow truck started to drag his vehicle onto the street.


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