Pawlenty declares state of emergency in counties hardest hit by the stormsby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio,
Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Cleanup efforts continue two days after dozens of tornadoes ripped across Minnesota, while officials work to determine the extent of the damage.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty Saturday declared a state of emergency in Faribault, Freeborn, Olmsted, Otter Tail, Polk, Steele, and Wadena Counties.
The order directs state agencies to work with federal agencies to provide emergency assistance.
The northwestern city of Wadena appeared to suffer the most extensive property damage, after a large tornado struck on Thursday. This weekend, residents and volunteers are working to salvage what remains from an estimated 232 homes either destroyed or damaged by the tornado.
City officials report the tornado also totaled 60 vehicles and severely damaged Wadena High School and a nearby community center.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited Wadena on Saturday and said the damage was worst than she expected.
She said residents effected by the storms should work with local officials to connect with aid. But she said if they run into a roadblock, she can help.
"I thought it was important for me to go there because I have found it's much more effective with our other government agencies to say 'I saw this, and it was a disaster, and we need to help these people'," Klobuchar said.
Volunteers from the Salvation Army and the Red Cross are helping residents recover from the disaster.
Officials are still trying to determine the scope of Thursday's severe weather. State emergency officials counted 39 tornadoes, 26 funnel clouds, 69 reports of hail and 11 reports of damage from thunderstorm winds.
Three people have been reported dead and dozens injured.
National Weather Service officials said it will take several days to determine how many tornadoes struck the state and to categorize the severity of the storms.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty toured storm-ravaged parts of the state on Friday. His trip included a stop in Albert Lea, where tornadoes spared the city, but devastated nearby farms.
Pawlenty said his administration is asking for an immediate federal assessment of the damage to find out if the state might be eligible for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said Minnesotans are already pitching in to help those affected by the storm.
Pawlenty was joined in Albert Lea by Democratic Congressman Tim Walz, who said he would push to have the dozens of Minnesota storms considered as a single weather event, boosting the chances it would meet the federal aid threshold.
Pawlenty also signed an emergency order authorizing Minnesota National Guard soldiers to assist in the cleanup efforts.
In Wadena, 43 National Guard soldiers are operating traffic checkpoints and providing security. Another 75 soldiers are providing similar services in Freeborn and Steele Counties.
Madeleine Baran is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.