Pawlenty OKs Guard help in storm
ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty authorized the Minnesota National Guard to help snow-buried communities late Thursday afternoon as a winter storm strengthened.
Pawlenty signed an order authorizing the Guard to help with electric power generation, searching for people lost in the storm, providing shelter and other humanitarian efforts. The governor said local government officials have asked for help.
The governor's order allowed the Guard to buy whatever is needed to accomplish the job and the state will pay for the soldiers' work.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation closed all state highways in 16 south and west Minnesota counties, including interstates 90 and 35. All state snowplows were taken off roads in those counties.
State officials said motorists could be fined up to $1,000 and jailed up to three months if they drive on a closed road.
Even before the harshest part of the storm hit, roadways were a problem for drivers.
From 6 a.m. to 1:40 p.m., the State Patrol investigated 164 property damage accidents statewide, and 15 injury crashes. Nearly 300 vehicles were reported off the roadways.
State officials began sending workers home in 16 southern and western counties Thursday afternoon.
"This closure is in effect until further notice," Employee Relations Commissioner Pat Anderson said in an e-mail to sate supervisors. "Exceptions to this include employees who are required by their agency to work during a weather emergency."
Anderson urged supervisors to work with employees who wanted to leave early anywhere in the state.
"If employees would like to get home due to the weather, managers and supervisors should make efforts to accommodate their wishes by allowing non-essential employees to use accrued vacation time, comp time or to make-up the time," Anderson wrote.
State legislative and executive branch officials said they would monitor the weather to determine Friday schedules.
The Minnesota Senate canceled all meetings scheduled to begin after 3 p.m. and sent its employees home. While House committees continued as scheduled Thursday, committee chairmen in both chambers were considering what to do about today's meetings.
The University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus closed, canceling all classes and activities at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
"In light of current conditions and the forecast for severely worsening weather, this is an appropriate measure at this time," Provost Thomas Sullivan said. "The mid-afternoon closing of metro area schools, colleges and universities and other institutions made it even clearer that this is the right thing to do."
President Robert Bruininks' State of the University address, which was scheduled Thursday afternoon, will be rescheduled.