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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Hundreds of thousands across the Midwest remained without electricity on Tuesday after a powerful storm packing 100 mph winds battered the region a day earlier, causing widespread damage to millions of acres of crops and killing at least two people.
The storm known as a derecho tore from eastern Nebraska across Iowa and parts of Wisconsin and Illinois, blowing over trees, flipping vehicles and causing widespread damage to property and crops. The storm left downed trees and power lines that blocked roadways in Chicago and its suburbs. After leaving Chicago, the most potent part of the storm system moved over north central Indiana.
In Iowa, farmers reported that some grain bins were destroyed and corn fields were flattened by the storm. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said early estimates indicate 10 million acres (4 million hectares) have been damaged in the nation’s top corn producing state. That would be nearly a third of the nearly 31 million acres (12.5 million hectares) of land used for crops in the state. The most significant damage is to the corn crop, which is in the advanced stages of development nearly a month away from the beginning of harvest.
“This morning I had a farmer reach out to me to say this was the worst wind damage to crops and farm buildings that he has ever seen across the state in such a wide area,” Reynolds said.
Roger Zylstra, who has farmed in central Iowa near Kellogg since 1980, said that four of his hog barns lost their roofs, two of his machine sheds suffered significant damage and many of his corn acres were destroyed.
Zylstra, 69, said crop insurance will help many farmers cut their losses, but that the financial hit will be devastating for many.
“The question remains for all of us is, what happens in the next five or six weeks? How much can we salvage out of these fields?” Zylstra said. “I know that some people won’t survive this. But there’s a fair number of people that will figure out how to hang in there, and we’ll keep doing what we do.”
The high winds continued to damage crops as the storm swept into northwestern Illinois but the wind had weakened somewhat by that point. Information about the severity of the damage was still being gathered Tuesday, said Andrea Casali, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Farm Bureau.
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, Isabel E. Atencio died at a hospital after firefighters pulled her from debris inside her mobile home after high winds rolled it onto its side Monday night, officials said. Firefighters found the 73-year-old woman under debris inside her toppled trailer and discovered that she was clutching a 5-year-old boy believed to be her grandson, said Adam O’Connor, deputy chief of the Fort Wayne Fire Department. The boy had minor injuries.
“They had to stabilize the trailer, crawl inside the trailer, find the two victims and bring them out,” O’Connor said.
“It’s awful. I was thinking about that all last night,” he said.
A derecho is not quite a hurricane. It has no eye, and its winds come across in a line. But the damage it is likely to do spread over such a large area is more like an inland hurricane than a quick more powerful tornado, according to Patrick Marsh, science support chief at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
Iowa officials reported roofs torn off homes and buildings, vehicles blown off roads and hit by trees, and people hurt by flying debris. One death and dozens of injuries were reported in the state.
A 63-year-old bicyclist died after he was struck by one of several large trees that fell Monday on a bike trail outside of Cedar Rapids near Ely, the Linn County sheriff’s office said. Thomas Rowland of Solon, Iowa suffered extensive injuries and died at the scene, the office said.
Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said 60 patients have been treated at local hospitals for storm-related injuries.
The Iowa Veterans Home also has extensive building damage and access was limited due to downed power lines and a state-run home for people with intellectual disabilities at Woodward had roof damage, Reynolds added.
A nursing home in Madrid, Iowa, had a portion of the roof torn off, and six COVID-19 patients were evacuated while one staff member was taken to a hospital after a window blew out. The Iowa governor said 20 patients at a Newton nursing home were evacuated to a nearby church.
Meanwhile, three of the state’s drive-through coronavirus testing sites, in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Marshalltown, sustained damage and were temporarily closed Tuesday, Reynolds said. She added that the closures would temporarily impact the number and availability of testing but that the state hoped to reopen them quickly. She said no testing samples appeared to have been damaged.
Utility officials in Iowa said it will likely take several days to restore power to everyone.
About 150,000 MidAmerican Energy customers in Iowa and another 34,000 in the Illinois Quad Cities region were without power Tuesday, the utility reported. Utility spokeswoman Tina Hoffman called the storm “one of the largest in recent memory” with 275,000 customers out of service during Monday’s peak.
Iowa’s other big electric utility, Alliant Energy, reported that roughly 200,000 customers in Iowa had no power as of Tuesday noon and said it “could take several days before the majority of services are restored.”
Alliant Vice President Terry Kouba said customers in rural areas can expect the longest wait for power restoration.
Power and Internet outages were widespread in the state’s three largest metropolitan areas, of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, where residents continued to clean up tree damage. The power outages were so extensive that at one point Monday, 97% of households in Linn County, which includes Cedar Rapids, were in the dark, Reynolds said.
The Iowa Department of Transportation on Tuesday closed eight service centers that were without power or phone service.
Mediacom spokesman Thomas Larsen said Tuesday that roughly 340,000 customers are without Internet service in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. He said the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor of eastern Iowa was particularly hard hit due to its fiber ring being cut in multiple locations. Some customers will get their service back when their power is restored, while others will need specific repairs due to downed or cut lines, he said.
In Wisconsin, WE Energies reported that about 4,200 customers remained without power on Tuesday morning.
Iowa's senior U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley issued the following statement on Monday's devastation:
"Yesterday, many parts of my home state were hit by extreme winds and severe storms. Trees are uprooted, roadways are obstructed, crops are severely damaged and grain bins are busted."
"Over 400,000 households lost power. Just like any other natural disaster Iowa has experienced, I know Iowans will band together and support each other as we recover from this storm. Senator Ernst and I stand ready to help with any federal assistance Iowa may need."
Photos courtesy of Kristy Gaines.