IOWA CITY, Iowa — Hundreds of thousands across the Midwest remained without power on Tuesday after a powerful storm packing 100 mph winds battered the region a day earlier, causing widespread damage to millions of acres to crops and killing a 73-year-old woman found clutching a young boy in her storm-battered mobile home.
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 millions of acres of 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, three of the state’s eight mobile coronavirus testing sites — in Marshalltown, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport — were temporarily closed Tuesday after suffering storm damage.
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 have been damaged in the nation’s top corn producing state. That would be nearly a third of the nearly 31 million acres 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.
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 her 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. So far, dozens of injuries but no fatalities in Iowa have been reported.
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 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.
In western Oklahoma, a BNSF Railways train derailment was “likely” caused by wind gusts of up to 70 miles (113 kilometers), National Weather Service meteorologist Phillip Ware said. The strong winds and the derailment both occurred about 8:30 p.m. Monday, Ware said. The train was traveling from Amarillo, Texas, to northwestern Ohio when 16 cars derailed, according to BNSF spokesperson Courtney Wallace.
“There are no injuries to the crew and none of the derailed cars contain hazmat. We have crews on site working to restore both main tracks. The current time for reopening is undetermined,” Wallace said in a statement.
About 150,000 customers in Iowa and another 40,000 in the Illinois Quad Cities region were without power, MidAmerican Energy reported Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for MidAmerican Energy, Tina Hoffman, called the storm “one of the largest in recent memory” with 275,000 customers out of service during Monday’s peak. She said the company had brought that total down to 200,000 by mid-day Tuesday, but “restoration will be a multi-day effort for some customers.”
Iowa’s other big electric utility, Alliant Energy, reported that roughly 200,000 customers in Iowa had no power as of Tuesday morning and gave no timeline for restoring service.
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 widespread 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.
Associated Press writer Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report. Funk contributed to this report from Omaha, Nebraska.
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