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A farmhouse west of Armstrong, Minn., is standing but in shambles after a tornado struck late Thursday. ((Tim Engstrom/Albert Lea Tribune/Associated Press))

Minnesota is cleaning up after a series of deadly tornadoes ripped through the state late Thursday.

At least three people were killed and dozens injured in the tornadoes, which also destroyed or damaged dozens of homes, tore up trees and toppled power lines.

The National Weather Service collected 36 reports of tornado sightings, with northwestern and southern Minnesota hardest hit. If the sightings are all confirmed, they would exceed the previous state record of 27 in one day, in 1992.

In the northwest part of the state, an elderly woman was killed in Almora and a gas station owner was killed in Mentor. In southern Minnesota, one person was killed at a farm west of Albert Lea.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty planned to tour storm-damaged areas later Friday.

Tornadoes are not uncommon in Minnesota this time of year, according to CBC weather reporter Kalin Mitchell.

"The state lies on the very northern edge of what is referred to as 'Tornado Alley' in the U.S.," Mitchell said. "May, June and July are the peak months for tornadoes in the state."

'A real tear-jerker'

The victim in Almora, Margie Schulke, died when a twister wiped out her home, said Otter Tail County Emergency spokesman David Hauser. Her husband, Norman, suffered two broken shoulders, their granddaughter Brittney Schulke told a local newspaper.

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A large funnel cloud touches down early Thursday evening west of Albert Lea, Minn. ((Arian Schuessler/The Globe-Gazette/Associated Press)

Shingles, pieces of buildings and other debris littered the town. Several large trees were uprooted.

Farther north, in Mentor, a man was killed when a tornado destroyed a Cenex gas station, the Polk County sheriff's office said. Three other people were hurt.

Scott Kern was at the Wadena Wal-Mart when the storm came through. He returned to his mobile home to find it demolished and his all-terrain vehicle up in a tree. His dog, Buttercup, was missing.

"Thanks to the man upstairs, I wasn't there," Kern said, fighting back tears. "This is a real tear-jerker for everybody."

Albert Lea, near the Iowa border, was particularly hard hit. KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa, reported that pigs from a 2,500-head farm were roaming around the area and a few carcasses were strewn about after a tornado struck. The TV station said the pigs were taken away in trucks after neighbours helped round them up.

With files from CBC News