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Hills, MN One Year After April Ice Storm

April 21, 2014, 10:15 PM by Stephanie Gregory

HILLS, MN -

Trees and limbs were knocked down and power was out for five days.  Hills, Minnesota, was hit hard during last year's April ice storm. Now the town is reflecting back on what has changed since the storm.

"Until you see the pictures of what we had to what it looks like now - that tells the story in itself," Hills Mayor Keith Elbers said.

The town looks normal today, but rewind a year ago. Trees down and limbs breaking, the scene after the April ice storm looked post-apocalyptic in Hills, Minnesota.

"That ice storm is something none of us have ever dealt with before," Elbers said.

During the Tuesday night storm on April 9, ice and heavy snow broke branches and tore down power lines to the small community.

"I don't know anyone who doesn't have tree damage to some sort.  Some had it a lot more severe than others; some lost entire trees," Elbers said.

Elbers remembers the next morning well.

"I found out very quick that a community is only as strong as the people that are in it and very strong," Elbers said.  "That next day, we had people ready to help and we had it organized and we probably had 50 people within a couple days getting everything cleaned up."

The entire town of just less than 700 felt the impact; power was out for everyone for five days.

"We went to every single door and checked on elderly people and stuff that we knew didn't have electricity and make sure they were all alright," Elbers said. 

The power outages greatly affected Tedd Larson, the long-time owner of Hills Locker.

"It really devastated us," Larson said.

Because of the outages, Larson had to get a generator during the storm to keep his meat cool.

"It's not cheap to generate electricity. The generator cost me $1,200 to rent and about another $100 for diesel fuel for four days," Larson said.

Like Larson, Hills is back to everyday life now. But looking back a year ago, Larson was impressed with all the community help.

"A lot of volunteers. There was, I don't know how many people, at least 50, farmers came to town with their big equipment. We really pulled together," Larson said.

"It was very overwhelming at first seeing the amount of trees that were down and the damage that was done, but local support between farmers and community members here it really cleaned up pretty well," head of public works Eric Harnack said.

Even the public works department employees say if they had to work another disaster again, they would be prepared considering what they went through one year ago.

"Everything was on the fly then so if it does happen again, we have a general idea what to expect," Harnack said.

Elbers looks at the silver lining after the storm. Since the town didn't have power and has a very weak cell phone signal, many people couldn't call for help, but now that's about to change. Elbers says he told Senator Amy Klobuchar about the issue when legislators visited the town after the storm. 

"Senator Klobuchar took it to heart and she told me she would do her best to get us a cell phone service and she did and we are getting a new tower built in town here," Elbers said.

Elbers says the cell phone tower should be built this summer.

During the ice storm, Hills residents didn't have any serious injuries. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency, which brought in federal dollars to help the community rebuild.

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