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Governments still assessing derecho damage

A pole bent in half on Center Street in Marshalltown from the derecho storm on Monday.

City and county officials met Tuesday morning to provide an overview of what happened during Monday’s storm and also give preliminary assessments of damage.

Kim Elder, Marshall County Emergency Management director, said not all communities were represented. She said a lot of people are doing a lot of work, plus there are communication problems cities are dealing with.

Elder said several of the community representatives said they would be signing disaster declarations.

“A declaration just states the city does not have the capacity to handle what happened,” she said. “It shows the city needs assistance – either financial or physical. It tells the state that they need help somehow.”

Once a declaration is signed, they will be given to Elder who will then turn them over to the state. Then, it is up to Gov. Kim Reynolds to issue a disaster proclamation. The governor did issue a disaster declaration for Marshall County Monday night.

So far, 13 counties have requested assistance from the state.

The report Elder received from Marshalltown during the Tuesday meeting primarily revolved around the electricity outage and the assessment process the city has in place.

“They are assessing the north side of town because they have less trees there,” she said. “Trees were taken out by the tornado so there are fewer to deal with. They will make their way through the north side much quicker and work their way through town.”

Alliant Energy does not have a power restoration time. Crews are working to restore power, and will be working for several days.

Cindy Tomlinson, manager of external communications for Alliant, said the company is still doing assessments and they hope to have an estimated time of restoration soon.

“There was widespread damage,” Tomlinson said. “Some employees who have been with us for a while said this was the worst storm in the history of our company.”

Alliant has not only called in all employees to help restore power, but brought in workers from other states and contractors to assist.

“We are definitely focusing to get people power,” Tomlinson said. “We want that more than anything else, but it will take time.”

Tomlinson said something homeowners can do is bring in an electrician to see what work can be done at home, work that Alliant will not do while they are restoring power. One example she provided was if a line is disconnected from a home or meter, an electrician can do that. Tomlinson said if that work is done, work that is a homeowner’s responsibility, power will be restored sooner after Alliant gets the system up and running again.

Elder said she would not want to be an electric company worker right now as the system is “a mangled mess.”

“There is damage on every side of us,” she said. “And it’s all interconnected.”

The loss of power has also created a lack of gas in vehicles. Gas pumps at stations are run on electricity. Many people are running out of gas or have already. Elder said there is power in State Center and the convenience stores there have gas.

“Expect to wait for two hours,” she said. “Law enforcement is directing traffic and have asked station employees to help with it. People are coming from every direction.”

Elder said gas stations in Newton and Grundy Center also have power.

The lack of electricity is also causing anxiety over food kept in refrigerators and freezers. Elder said food in fridges without electricity should not be consumed after four hours.

“So, any food in the fridge last night should not be eaten,” she said.

Food stored in deep freezes can be safe for 24 hours, she said. Elder is hoping the forecasted cooler temperatures and lower humidity will help extend the life of any perishable food.

The storm which ripped through Marshalltown and Marshall County was a derecho, Elder said. A derecho is a very well-formed, well-connected thunderstorm system with the ability to create hurricane-force winds, torrential rains and tornadoes.

“Derechos are very damaging,” she said. “We had one in July 2017 which formed over State Center. It is a phenomenon we have experienced a couple times in the last few years.”

Elder and Tomlinson reminded everyone to stay away from downed power lines as clean up of yards and sidewalks are ongoing.

“We are Iowans and we are getting out there and cleaning up,” Elder said. “We are working on damage assessments and the sooner we get that done the better. We will take this one piece at a time.”

While residents are dealing with the aftermath of the derecho, Elder also reminded everyone there is still a pandemic going on.

“We want to keep everyone aware of that and people need to respect social distancing,” she said. “Please be careful of that.”

Contact Lana Bradstream at 712-578-1803 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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