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An unexpected storm blew into Kalona on Tuesday, snapping two transmission power poles and plunging thousands of businesses and homes into darkness.
The storm hit just after 11 a.m. Power blinked on and off a couple of times before going off completely.
A transmission power pole on A Avenue east of the Kalona Sales Barn snapped in half, the top parallel to the ground. A second power pole was bent to about a 30-degree angle to the ground.
It would be six hours before power was restored to some of the city at 5:13 p.m.
Most downtown businesses were dark. Kalona City Hall, which has an emergency generator, continued operations.
City crews traveled Kalona streets removing downed tree limbs. Leaves and branches – both large and small – littered many yards in the city.
While the lights went out at Mid-Prairie East Elementary School, Principal Robin Foster said, “We are learning.”
“We don’t need technology for everything,” she said.
Foster said each classroom has a “crisis bag” equipped with flashlights and lesson plans for different scenarios, including power outages. Battery-powered lanterns lit the bathrooms.
Students were at lunch when the power went off. Foster said teachers moved them to classrooms. For the first hour, emergency lights lit hallways, but eventually those went dark, too.
Classes worked by the sunlight coming through classroom windows. In second-grade classrooms on the north-end of the school, there were not as many windows in the classrooms. One class worked in a hallway.
Substitute teacher Katherine Ballensky read to her class with the flashlight on her cellphone. Second-grade teacher Kerri Bell had her class working on writing in their journals.
“Learning is going on,” she said.
Meteorologist David Cousins at the National Weather Service in Davenport said there was a strong surge of air ahead of a thunderstorm that was moving into the area.
At 11:13 a.m., just about the time the power went out in Kalona, a 52-mph gust was recorded at the Iowa City airport, the closest measured observation to Kalona.
Cousins said gusts could have been higher in Kalona.
“It could be something more localized,” he said.
A severe thunderstorm warning was issued for northeast Washington County at 11:47 a.m.
Crews from Alliant and ITC Midwest worked to replace the downed power poles and restore electricity.
Rod Pritchard, manager of marketing and communications for ITC Midwest, said the situation was complicated because of work ITC Midwest is doing to replace the transmission line between Frytown and Kalona along Highway 1.
Usually that line would have provided redundancy for service to Kalona.
“That line was down,” he said.