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Massive storm damages cemetery, parishes

Northern Minnesota has been no stranger to severe summer weather the past few years, from the historic floods of 2012 to another round of flooding this year and severe weather in places like Deer River.

The latest storm hit Duluth and left tens of thousands of people without power, some for nearly a week, after winds perhaps 100 mph blew down thousands of trees, and with them, many power lines. Two Catholic institutions — St. John the Evangelist Church and Calvary Cemetery — are in some of the hardest hit areas, where tangles of trees uprooted or snapped off like matchsticks are still being cleared up.

storm damage
A fallen tree next to a gravestone at Calvary Cemetery near Duluth shows just a bit of the devastation. The cemetery lost more than 100 trees and had water lines uprooted in a storm that left much of the city without power for days. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)

Father Richard Kunst, pastor at St. John’s, said there was damage to the church, playground and rectory from “dozens” of trees falling — “big ones.”

“It’s probably going to be there for a while,” he said of the damage. Initial estimates are in the tens of thousands of dollars. His other parish, St. Joseph in Gnesen, had no power the Sunday after the storm ripped through, and speaking to The Northern Cross six days out from the storm, the rectory at St. John’s still didn’t have power, and neither did many of the parishioners, although it has since best restored to almost everyone.

Father Kunst said the morning of the storm was the first time he’s canceled a weekday Mass because of weather — “it was pure chaos.” A wedding got moved at the last moment to St. John’s from St. Michael’s Church in Lakeside (another hard hit area) due to power outages, and a funeral was moved to St. Mary Star of the Sea from St. John’s the day after the storm. But other than that, things have largely gone on as Father Kunst said there has been little in the way of parish outreach yet — largely because those who usually engage in that kind of ministry are busy digging out yet themselves — but it will come.

Tim Sailstad, supervisor of Calvary Cemetery, said the 70-acre facility had more than 120 trees down.

“All of the roads were blocked in various locations,” he said, and 40 to 50 headstones were tipped or uprooted, mostly from falling trees.

“The thing about tipped over stones is I imagine in 90 percent of the cases there won’t be any damage to those stones,” he said. “They just have to be reset.”

“The storm also tore up water lines as nearby trees were uprooted.”. He said he has no estimate yet of a dollar value on damage, and insurance likely will not cover tree damage within the cemetery. It will be just a lot of man-hours of work to repair it.

Work had already begun with most roads cleared and the sound of chainsaws in the air about a week after the storm came through.

“I would say the cleanup will take into the winter,” Sailstad said. “We’ll probably still be working on it next spring.”

The cemetery, too, spent days without power or telephone. “We were one of the last ones to get power back,” he said.

Sailstad said people have been very understanding — even the power company. “People have been very kind and empathetic. [It’s] quite moving actually,” he said.

— By Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross