Hundreds of thousands of households in Iowa and Illinois remained without electricity Wednesday, two days after a rare wind storm that hit the United States Midwest devastated parts of the power grid, flattened valuable cornfields and killed two people.
Much of Iowa and parts of several other states suffered outages on Monday as straight-line winds toppled trees, snapped poles and downed power lines. The storm, known as a derecho, had winds of up to 180kph (112mph) near Cedar Rapids, as powerful as a hurricane, as it tore from eastern Nebraska across Iowa and into Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
The derecho produced seven tornadoes in the Chicago metropolitan area, including an EF-1 tornado with 177kph (110mph) winds that hit the Rogers Park neighbourhood on the city’s north side before moving onto Lake Michigan as a waterspout, the National Weather Service said.
That storm left damage along a 4.8-kilometre-long (roughly 3-mile) path before reaching the lake and was the first tornado of at least EF-1 strength to strike Chicago since a May 29, 1983, storm, the weather service said.
Another EF-1 tornado that swept through Wheaton, Illinois, knocked over the iconic white steeple atop College Church in the Chicago suburb that is the DuPage County seat.
The weather service also confirmed two tornadoes in southern Wisconsin and two in northern Indiana, including an EF-1 that swept the rural community of Wakarusa, about 40km (25 miles) southeast of South Bend, leaving behind smashed grain bins, damaged barns and farmhouses.
Crews throughout the region have been working around the clock to restore electricity, but they have been hindered by large trees that are blocking many roads and sitting on top of power lines. Those trees must be removed before power can be restored.
Iowa’s three largest metropolitan areas of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport still had widespread outages as of Wednesday morning.
Alliant Energy said about 176,000 of its customers are without power, about half of which are in the Cedar Rapids area. MidAmerican Energy said about 139,000 of its Iowa and Illinois customers remain without power, half them in the Des Moines area.
As of late Wednesday morning, ComEd reported that about 200,000 of its Chicago-area customers remained without power. Northern Indiana Public Service Co. reported about 18,500 of its Indiana customers were still in the dark.
Mediacom said Wednesday that it had restored internet service to about half of the 340,000 customers that were offline a day earlier in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. But many others may be without service until their power is restored, a process that could still take multiple days in places.
The storm caused extensive crop damage in the nation’s number-one corn-producing state as it tore across Iowa’s centre from west to east.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said Tuesday that about 4.05 million hectares (10 million acres) of Iowa’s nearly 12.14 million hectares (31 million acres) of agriculture land sustained damage. About 9.71 million hectares (24 million acres) of that is land typically planted primarily with corn and soybeans.
In addition, tens of millions of bushels of grain that were stored at co-ops and on farms were damaged or destroyed as bins blew away.
The only known death in Iowa was a 63-year-old bicyclist who was hit by one of several large trees that fell on a bike path outside of Cedar Rapids. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the storm killed a 73-year-old woman who was found clutching a young boy in her storm-battered mobile home.
Many businesses, including banks, restaurants and a major corn processing plant in Cedar Rapids, remained closed Wednesday due to power outages.
The Cedar Rapids school district reported that over 20 of its buildings had roof and other structural damage, ranging from minor to significant, and that it was considering pushing back this month’s start date.
State Senator Liz Mathis said she took cover in the basement of her suburban Cedar Rapids home Monday as the storm battered her neighbourhood for 45 minutes. She said pictures fell off the wall, water seeped in through windows, and she worried the glass would blow in and hurt her.
Mathis said the devastation is widespread across her district, and the “tree damage is unreal”. People are waiting an hour or longer at petrol stations to fill up their vehicles and get fuel for chain saws, as some are closed or have run out of petrol, she said.
Residents are clearing out their refrigerators and freezers after their food has spoiled. A local utility official told Mathis on Wednesday that it could be a week before everyone’s power is restored.
“The cities are going to look much different without the trees, and it’s going to take a while to recover from this,” she said.