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Fast and furious
Construction contracter Mike Scott, left, stands with two passersby on 12th Street in Monroe, surveying damage wrought by a storm that blew through the area Thursday evening, May 30. The hole is about 20 feet by 20 feet. (Times photo: Katjusa Cisar)
MONROE - A fierce thunderstorm blew a hole in the side of Minhas Craft Brewery on 12th Street Thursday evening, May 30, forcing beer production to be shut down for the night.

Six steel sheets filled with insulation collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk in the storm that hit Monroe at about 6:30 p.m., bringing with it a brief but torrential downpour. Witnesses reported seeing hail the size of nickels or quarters and estimated winds at 60 to 70 mph. The heaviest part of the storm passed quickly, although a light rain lingered for hours.

By 7:30 p.m., the sidewalk was taped off and workers were out surveying the damage.

"It pulled the bottom panels right out," said Mike Scott, who does construction for the brewery. At about 8 p.m. he left in his pickup truck to get some tarp to cover the gaping hole. It exposed the building's support beams and a storage tank of beer, which needs to be in a controlled environment.

Jeremy Grigsby, brewer on the evening shift, said he was inside working when the storm escalated.

"I poked my head out," he said. "The rain was almost horizontal."

Production manager Louie Armstrong said electricity had to be turned off and beer production and bottling will be shut down until at least the morning. He estimates 50 barrels of beer were ruined in the batch workers were brewing when the storm hit.

Armstrong came down to check on things at the brewery after hearing the storm from his home a few blocks away. He stood on the sidewalk with passersby and workers to take in the truck-sized hole. Drivers slowed down to snap cell phone photos, and he shouted out jokes - "We've started remodeling."

The Monroe Police Department reported minor to moderate damage to other buildings in the city, including damage to the roof of a shelter house at Recreation Park and to garden sheds at various residences.

There were also about a dozen full-size trees downed in the city during the storm, and more than a dozen calls of large limbs blocking city streets; the fire department and public works department helped clear roads and all streets were reported open before 8 p.m.

At least two parked vehicles were damaged by falling trees or limbs, Police Chief Fred Kelley said.

Power was out at numerous locations throughout the area, including the Monroe Middle School. A choir concert there was able to proceed after a short delay and with the help of a generator. In some locations in Monroe, power was out for almost three hours.

No injuries were reported in the storm.

Today, May 31, may bring more severe weather. The National Weather Service predicts thunderstorms throughout the day, with the chance of severe storms especially in the afternoon and evening.