Torrential rains and howling, shifting winds battered the northern and eastern halves of the county Monday, with Marion suffering prolonged power outages and extensive tree damage.
Westar Energy spokesman Yvonne Etzel estimated 1,100 to 1,200 customers lost power because of the storm.
City administrator Roger Holter said the citywide outage started at 7:12 p.m. when a string of eight utility poles nead 180th and Remington Rds. went down, which in turn caused a substation between Marion and Hillsboro to go out.
At the same time, heavy rain fell nearly sideways at times in wind gusts that unofficially reached almost 70 mph. The torrent overwhelmed drainage systems in Jex Addition, on 3rd St. behind city hall, and the drainage corridor from Eastmoor Dr. to the old Cottonwood River, Holter said.
As the storm began to subside, Marion firefighters were called out to the vicinity of 240th and Old Mill Rds. for three burning oil tanks. Fire chief Mike Regnier said lightning likely was the cause. Hillsboro mistakenly was paged first and responded, arriving first; Marion firefighters eventually relieved them.
Conditions were such that the only course of action was to let the fire burn itself out, and when the caretaker of the tanks arrived and agreed to watch the blaze, firefighters headed back to Marion.
Few whole trees were toppled, but large branches ripped power lines from about 60 homes, Holter said. Marion electric crews worked through the night and all day Tuesday to re-establish connections. Westar sent six repair crews to the area.
“We had about a two-hour break and went back at it,” electric supervisor Christian Pedersen said. “It was like an 18-hour storm, but it’s enough to make a guy tired.”
When power was restored about 10:30 p.m., downed lines sparked to life, igniting small fires in several locations around town. Regnier said firefighters responded to 11 calls, including the oil tank fire, and finished their work about 1 a.m.
An undetermined number of homes and outbuildings were damaged by the storm. One house at Marion County Park and Lake lost the peak of its roof, and the lake remained without power until late Tuesday afternoon.
Extensive damage could be seen near Cottonwood Point at Marion Reservoir. Most of a storage facility for recreational vehicles and watercraft was demolished, with large strips of metal siding strewn into a neighboring field. One RV toppled on its side, while others were jammed against boats and personal watercraft.
By Tuesday morning, cleanup was well underway. City crews had worked to clear streets and alleys, and residents could be seen piling branches at curbs.
“We’ve had to pull off resources twice today to take loaders and stack the debris at the tree dump higher,” Holter said. “What isn’t carried down there by citizens, we’ll be spending the next two days going around and picking them up curbside.”
Holter said crews would pick up branches in alleys Friday for people who find it easier to pile branches there.
Electric crews got an assist from Hillsboro on Tuesday in the form of two fully manned trucks. They reset seven power poles felled by the storm, allowing Marion crews to continue working on residences.
“That was a huge help,” Pedersen said.
A few homes had downed wires that tore electric boxes away from walls, and Pedersen said some wires were ripped away from interior fuse boxes. Certified electricians will have to effect repairs before the city restores power to those homes.
Pedersen praised the coordinated response of city workers and volunteers, and said the response of the public was good.
“I had a lot of phone calls, and there wasn’t one single person that was upset,” Pedersen said. “They were concerned, and they just wanted to know when the power would be back on. That helps our crew because we don’t have to worry about people being upset.”