Kansans began their recovery Thursday from Wednesday's storm that brought high winds, dust storms and numerous power outages to the Sunflower State.
More than 18,000 people remained without power at 4 p.m. Thursday, according to David Campbell, CEO of Evergy, the state's largest electrical utility.
Wednesday's storm brought the state golf ball-sized hail and winds of up to 100 mph.
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Evergy power outages leave 18,000 in Kansas without power
Over 18,000 Evergy customers remain without power in Kansas, Chuck Caisley, the company's chief customer officer said Thursday afternoon.
Power had been restored to over 90% of the 258,000 customers who had their service disrupted Wednesday and Thursday, Caisley said. The largest outages had been tackled but disruptions affecting 25 or fewer homes remained.
"Most of the outages we have left, if you still are without power you are in a relatively small outage," Caisley said.
The company did not yet have a cost estimate for damage from the storms but expected it to run into the millions of dollars.
The storms were so severe that Evergy tracked wind speeds of up to 100 miles-per-hour, the equivalent of an F1 tornado, at wind turbines in south-central Kansas
Counties across Kansas experienced downed power lines and power outages. As of 3 p.m. Evergy reports 1,279 customer outages in Reno County, 3,856 in Saline County and 3,480 in Shawnee County. McPherson County is down to 719.
Hutchinson and Partridge had the most customers without power in Reno County. Assaria, Brookeville and Salina had the most outages in Saline County. As for Shawnee County, Topeka had the highest incidents, with Tecumseh and Wakarusa also having quite a few outages.
Animals safe at Topeka Zoo, which is largely without power
The Topeka Zoo on Wednesday successively followed the protocol it has in place to ensure all its animals are secure when weather events occur, said zoo director Brendan Wiley.
Wiley says walkways there were littered with branches this morning but zoo staff and volunteers quickly got to work cleaning up. “By noon, you’ll never know here,” he said.
Wiley said an evergreen fell but landed just short of Gage Park’s Helen Hocker Theatre, which avoided damage, though that wouldn’t have been the case if the tree were 10 feet taller.
Some shingles were knocked off the roof of the Topeka Zoo’s administrative building, he said.
The zoo’s buildings that house animals generally still have electrical power, Wiley said. He expects power will soon be restored to its commissary, which contains thousands of dollars worth of frozen meat. Evergy is making restoring power there a priority, he said.
The Topeka Zoo does remain open, with tickets being sold by hand.
The Topeka Zoo’s “Zoo Lights” feature was closed Wednesday evening because of the zoo power outage, but Wiley says it will be back open at 5 p.m. today.
City of Topeka working on more than a dozen traffic signals
Chris Jakel, with the city of Topeka, said the city is working on more than a dozen traffic signals that are out, including using generators at some locations to keep lights going.
Some city employees are working 12-hour shifts to deal with the lights, Jakel said.
Numerous businesses and residents fixing damage
The damage from Wednesday's storm in Topeka could have been a lot worse, a Capital-Journal team has heard from residents and business owners throughout the morning.
Downed tree limbs, damaged roofs and building exteriors, and fallen signs are among the most common incidents.
National Guard to help with wildfire efforts
The Kansas National Guard and Kansas Forest Service will deploy to help fight ongoing wildfires in central and western Kansas, the agency said in a statement.
Major wildfires appeared to break out, notably in Ellis and Russell counties, in the wake of the severe wind storms which rolled across Kansas Wednesday. Reports showed structures on fire in Paradise in Russell County and part of the city of Ellis was briefly evacuated due to a fire threat.
The state is under a disaster emergency issued by Gov. Laura Kelly on Dec. 9 related to elevated fire risk.
In a statement, the National Guard said it will use UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to aid local responders, which can be used to drop water on otherwise hard-to-reach areas.
“The winds yesterday made it difficult to get burning fires contained,” Kelly said in a statement. “Prepositioning firefighting personnel and equipment in western Kansas along with those assets responding will allow our aviation assets to quickly respond and keep Kansans safe. Local responders work heroically to respond when wildland fires threaten their communities and the state stands ready to back them up, if needed.”
150 square miles burned, at least 10 houses destroyed in Russell County, NWS reports
According to a retweet from the National Weather Service office in Wichita, at least 10 homes have been destroyed in a wildfire stretching over a 150-mile area in Russell County. The NWS retweeted a post from weather watcher and documentarian Jonathan Petramala, who stated there were no deaths but at least one serious injury from the fires.
First light looking at the damage in Paradise, KS. Russell County sheriff tells me the fire stretches over at least a 150 square mile area. At least 10 homes have been destroyed. No deaths, at least one severe injury. Details are still being figured out. #KSfires #KSwx pic.twitter.com/tXwXpqxNVL
— Jonathan Petramala (@jpetramala) December 16, 2021
Track Kansas fires and smoke
See more details about the reported fires: Kansas fire and smoke tracker
Power outages affect Topeka businesses; elementary school closed
With thousands across the state still without power, outages were affected city schools and businesses.
The Topeka Zoo reported two-thirds of the zoo remained without power, including the servers supporting ticket sales, but noted it remains able to sell tickets on paper.
Meanwhile, Tecumseh North Elementary School was without power, with school called off for the day.
School’s out because of a power outage at Tecumseh South Elementary School. pic.twitter.com/hj2UGcAmfA
— timhrenchir (@timhrenchir1) December 16, 2021
Kansas Highway Patrol releases fatality numbers, removing vehicles from interstates
The Kansas Highway Patrol announced on their Twitter feed that the number of accidents reported on Wednesday were as follows:
51 total accidents
20 non-injury accidents
2 injury accidents
2 accidents that resulted in 3 fatalities
KHP is also clearing vehicles that were left behind after Wednesday's big storm and asks that motorists drive carefully.
Today all across Kansas, tow services will be removing vehicles for ditches and medians following yesterday‘s strong winds.
Be sure to #SlowDown and #MoveOver for them and other first responders on scene.
It matters. #KSwx
— Trooper Ben (@TrooperBenKHP) December 16, 2021
Damage near Lake Shawnee
Riley Shafer, a Shawnee County Parks and Recreation employee, said Lake Shawnee escaped largely unscathed from the storms, with heavier damage reported at other county parks, including Gage Park.
This stop light had been knocked down near Lake Shawnee. pic.twitter.com/UGwIU4Jsfj
— timhrenchir (@timhrenchir1) December 16, 2021
Frito-Lay plant suffers damage
A building at Topeka's Frito-Lay plant sustained damage, with large sections of the exterior ripped away.
Evergy Plaza suffers some damage
Topeka's Evergy Plaza, a downtown gathering spot, suffered some damage, including to holiday decorations. A bolted-down trashcan was ripped from its foundation, and tables and chairs were toppled.
Martin Ortiz, an employee of Downtown Topeka Inc., was cleaning up at the plaza. Ortiz said he was picking up a lot of trash that got caught in the trees and bushes in the area.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas storm leaves 18,000-plus with power outages; damage updates