Camp Ripley assesses storm damage from tornado

The solar project under construction at Camp Ripley was damaged Wednesday night in a storm.


By KIRSTI MAROHN | The St. Cloud Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 9, 2016

LITTLE FALLS, M.N. (Tribune News Service) — Staff Sgt. Anthony Housey is just grateful that the tornado that tore through Camp Ripley midweek didn't happen on the weekend, when four times as many military personnel would have been on the base for drills.

As it was, about 100 soldiers were in buildings that were damaged during the storm, which struck at about 10:30 Wednesday night. No one was injured.

Housey, the camp's spokesman, attributes that partly to the fact that many of the soldiers have been deployed overseas and are used to dealing with stressful conditions. They also had recently undergone training for a similar scenario involving a tornado.

"Nobody panicked," he said. "Everyone just stayed calm and got out of the way."

Camp Ripley officials are assessing the damage from the tornado, which stripped roofs and paneling off the buildings and left twisted wreckage behind. Several buildings used for housing, training and maintenance have major damage.

The National Weather Service said the EF-1-rated tornado had winds of up to 90 mph and crossed 7-8 miles in a path about 50 yards wide.

The camp has a siren alert system that's connected to Morrison County's.

However, the county wasn't tracking any severe storms, so the sirens didn't sound, Housey said.

On a training base that encompasses 53,000 acres and plenty of open space, the tornado frustratingly damaged the nearly complete $25 million solar array on the site. Minnesota Power, which is building the project, had planned to install the final panels this week. About one-quarter of the 97 rows of solar panels were damaged.

The storm left damage in a swath about 300 meters long, uprooting some trees and spreading debris. Most of the debris that struck the solar array was from a nearby maintenance shelter, Housey said.

"It was pretty unforgiving," he said.

Once it's complete, the 10-megawatt solar power plant will be the largest on any National Guard base in the nation. A Sept. 16 celebration of the project's completion will be postponed until spring. Although two buildings used as barracks sustained roof and siding damage, there was very little damage to the buildings themselves, which are built from sturdy concrete blocks.

The damage shouldn't cause any major hiccups in the camp's training schedule.

The camp has tin huts that can be used to house soldiers during warmer months while the barracks are being replaced, Housey said.

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