IOWA DERECHO 2020

Utilities in Eastern Iowa ask customers to stay away from downed power lines

Death, delay in power restoration otherwise possible

Utility companies are urging Eastern Iowans to stay away from downed power lines to avoid risking serious injury.

“It’s really important that people stay away from a power line and you don’t approach it or touch it,” MidAmerican spokesman Geoff Greenwood said. “If you see a downed line, assume it’s energized.”

Alliant Energy spokesman Mike Wagner told The Gazette it’s not visible whether a line on the ground has power running through it.

“The last thing we want is someone to touch one and get killed or seriously hurt,” Wagner said.

Wagner also said customers should be cautious while clearing trees and other debris in their yard.

“When you’re out and working in your yard, really be cognizant of what’s in your yard,” Wagner said. “Make sure you don’t accidentally step on something that you can’t see.”

A tree in contact with or tangled with a power line is especially dangerous. Wagner said to let one of Alliant Energy’s tree-trimming crews take care of it.

“Unless there is some safety reason why they absolutely positively need to do it, I’d wait until our crews can get there,” Wagner said. “There are so many unknowns with it.”

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MidAmerican’s tree-trimming crews will take care of any lines on public thoroughfares, Greenwood said, but trees interfering with a customer’s own line are the customer’s responsibility.

“If it’s a situation that may be beyond your ability, we urge you to call a professional,” Greenwood said.

Widespread storm damage has resulted in many power lines obstructing roads.

Driving over downed power lines could prolong Alliant’s recovery efforts, Wagner said, along with presenting a safety challenge if it gets tangled with a tire. If people continuously drive over the lines, it could significantly complicate repairs.

“We understand customers in some areas have no other choice, but we ask them to avoid doing it if at all possible,” Wagner said.

Wagner said the number of trees downed by Monday’s derecho storm makes recovery much slower than in a typical storm or tornado.

“This is not an outage where you can re-energize a substation,” Wagner said. “We have to go house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood to rebuild the lines.”

Alliant is using about 100 rooms at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids to house crews and additional staff who are repairing the electrical grid.

Greenwood said MidAmerican has about 1,000 workers from other states helping, including Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

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Most MidAmerican customers should have power back either Wednesday or Thursday, Greenwood said, with some customers possibly not having power back until Saturday.

Terry Kouba, senior vice president of Alliant and the president of the Iowa utility, said in a news release Tuesday it “could take several days before the majority of services are restored.”

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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