Death toll from wind storm rises in Iowa as power outages persist

It will take five days or longer to restore power to some Iowa homes and businesses that have been without electricity since Monday's wind storm left damage across the Midwest and killed at least four people, officials said Thursday.

The straight-line winds that toppled trees and power lines across much of Iowa was “unlike anything our company has ever seen," Alliant Energy spokesman Mike Wagner said. Hundreds of workers were assessing damage and clearing trees that have blocked roads and power lines, he said.

The hardest hit city was Cedar Rapids, where officials said Thursday the damage left by Monday's derecho was more extensive than the 2008 flood that destroyed much of its downtown.

Alliant Energy said that about 140,000 customers in Iowa remained without power, more than half of them in Cedar Rapids.

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“We believe that we will be able to substantially restore power in Cedar Rapids in the next five to seven days,” Wagner said at an afternoon news conference with city leaders.

Wagner said that people with homes where meters were damaged by winds will need to call electricians to get repairs before their power is restored.

MidAmerican Energy reported about 77,000 Iowa customers were still without power Thursday afternoon, with about half of those in the Des Moines area.

Cedar Rapids city manager Jeff Pomeranz said the damage done by Monday’s storm was more impactful than the 2008 flood, which was one of the nation’s most expensive natural disasters at the time.

Pomeranz said the storm touched every square mile of the city of 133,000 people, destroyed thousands of trees, damaged homes and businesses and prompted a record number of calls for emergency assistance. He said hospitals were also overwhelmed with emergency room visits by those injured or in need of other medical treatment.

In rural central Iowa, Poweshiek County Sheriff Thomas Kriegel on Thursday attributed two more deaths to the storm. A 42-year-old woman on her porch in Malcom was struck by a large tree as the storm moved through, and a 41-year-old electrician who worked for the city of Brooklyn was electrocuted by a power line he was reconnecting, he said.

Officials in Cedar Rapids previously confirmed a bicyclist died after being hit by one of several large trees that fell on a bike path outside the city. A woman in Indiana also died after winds tipped over her mobile home.

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Normal life in Cedar Rapids, Iowa's second largest city, came to an abrupt halt on Monday. Most businesses and offices have been closed. Families have limited access to cell phone, internet and television service. Many homes have damage to their roofs, windows and structures. Trees and power lines are down everywhere.

“This is a disaster that we have never seen before. It is something that was essentially like a hurricane coming through the Midwest” without advance notice, said U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, a Democrat who represents Cedar Rapids in Congress.

She called on Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to seek an expedited federal disaster declaration so that more aid could flow into the area. She said the state and charities also need to provide more immediate assistance, including ice and food for families, gas for generators and mobile pharmacies to provide prescription drugs.

Reynolds is expected to hold a news conference in the city Friday, and Pomeranz said he expected to raise many of the issues with her. Reynolds has declared 23 counties disaster areas, making them eligible for state aid, and is expected to seek a federal declartaion.

The storm hit with 100 mph winds, flattening corn fields across the state and damaging homes and farms buildings.

“The storm was the equivalent of a 40-mile wide tornado that rolled over 100 miles of the state,” said Dusky Terry, president of ITC Midwest, which owns and operates some of the power lines damaged by the storm.