Local utilities, Iowa City street management engage in around-the-clock repairs after storm

Nearly 75,000 homes still without power in Johnson County on Tuesday.


Tate Hildyard

A split tree and a knocked down power line are seen in Iowa City on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. A severe weather storm swept through the city causing property damage.

Rachel Schilke, News Editor

After a large storm tore through Iowa City on Monday, local utility companies and Iowa City Streets and Traffic Engineering are working around the clock to repair damage and urge residents to be conscious of debris. Nearly 75,000 homes in Iowa City are still without power, according to poweroutage.us

The storm called Derecho scattered hundreds of trees and debris across Iowa, sending 13 counties, including Johnson, into a state of emergency and leaving over 450,000 homes still without power. The Iowa Utilities Board said in a press release on Tuesday the storm was one of the most destructive on record.

Six major roads are closed due to the storm, according to a press release sent out by Iowa City on Tuesday afternoon:

  • Rochester Avenue between First and Seventh Avenues
  • Court Street closed between Third and Fourth Avenues
  • Muscatine Avenue between Second and Third Avenues; between Dearborn Street and Seventh Avenue
  • Summit Street between Court Street and Bowery Street
  • Dodge Street between Burlington Street and Bowery Street

Assistant City Manager Ashley Monroe said the city will have to assess costs after repairs and restorations are completed. The city will analyze the amount of staff on duty during the cleanup, and will receive invoices for additional expenses, such as new generators and equipment, which could take up to a few weeks, she said.

She said the city is estimating more than one day of road repairs and will continue to prioritize clearing the roads beginning Tuesday until they are restored.

Monroe said the most frequent reports of damage or debris are downed trees and tree limbs on the roofs of houses and caught in power lines. The amount of yard waste allowed to sit on the curb for garbage collection has been increased to allow for residents to remove more yard waste that city crews are not responsible for, she said. 

“People usually cannot put out a bigger amount [of yard waste] than what fits in their bins,” Monroe said. “We recognized that what people have in their yards is larger than what we are used to, so more materials and debris are eligible for pickup for now.”

Two city buildings also reported minor damage and some city buildings suffered power outages, she added. The Streets and Traffic Engineering Building on Napoleon Lane sustained a cracked window due to a tree branch and the City Refuse Office on Riverside Drive suffered roof damage. 

“We are continuing to recommend residents to be continuing to watchful of loose materials and potential encounters with power lines,” Monroe said. “I think right now it is a matter of encouraging people to stay in at their homes if possible, and if they have to travel, to be aware of street closures.”

Utility companies such as MidAmerican Energy Company are working across Iowa and Illinois to repair power lines and restore power to homes and buildings. MidAmerican Energy said on Twitter and Facebook that it could take multiple days to complete repairs. 

Director of Johnson County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Dave Wilson said in an email to The Daily Iowan that residents should plan up to three days of outages, and that distribution lines are down, which take longer to repair.

“Plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Wilson said.

As of 5:30 p.m., 14,861 MidAmerican customers in Iowa City and a total of 176,846 customers across Iowa remain without power. By 5:47 p.m., the number in Iowa City increased to 15,199 and total increased to 177,567. 

Early Tuesday, the governor made a disaster declaration in 13 counties, including Johnson and Linn. That opens up grants for households that sustained damage.

Many University of Iowa students who have returned to campus lost power in apartments and homes, resulting in low service and an inability to connect to WiFi.

Juan Herrera, a graduate student at the California Institute of Arts and UI alumnus, said he moved back to Iowa City due to the number of COVID-19 cases in California, and had only one day to complete online registration for classes. 

*Editor’s note: Juan Herrera is a former Daily Iowan staff photographer. 

While registering, Herrera said he lost power and internet access and has been communicating with low service since Monday. He has not been able to register for his classes since the storm.

“[California Institute of Arts] said they are going to call me to help me out over the phone, but only after everyone registers,” he said. “Which means I will be put on a waiting list [for] almost all classes I was hoping to take.” 

He said he is a co-coordinator for visiting artist lectures at CalArts and said the impact of the storm will make it difficult to get in contact with artists around the world that conduct lectures for CalArts via Zoom. 

“The Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor is one of Iowa’s secret gems, [and has] one of the highest percentages of people with graduate degrees in the nation,” Herrera said. “From this area, like me, there are people working for institutions and companies that are located in Los Angeles and New York. This shortage will significantly impact everyone.”

What should I do with debris?

The City of Iowa City released instructions on what residents should do with extra debris from the storm, which felled trees across Iowa City and Johnson County.

The City of Iowa City will pick up tree trunks and limbs up to six feet in length with an endloader or skid steer. The city will pick up wood waste and brush less than four inches in diameter in yard waste containers as part of the City of Iowa City curbside garbage pick-up service.

Residents served by the Iowa City Landfill may also take debris directly to the Iowa City Landfill at 3900 Hebl Ave. SW. There are no size limitations or bundling requirements on limbs or branches that are dropped off at the Landfill, and no disposal fees are charged. Landfill hours are Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The city advises to plan on long lines and wait times.



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