Kim Reynolds praises Iowans' response to Wednesday storms, says damage could have been 'a lot worse'

Governor Kim Reynolds answers questions from the press after pardoning two turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving, on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, outside of Terrace Hill, in Des Moines.
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  • Kim Reynolds
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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she felt a knot in her stomach Wednesday as the state braced for a rare December windstorm that would tear through multiple states and leave at least one person dead.

"I would be lying if I didn’t say that, especially after seeing what happened in Kentucky and Missouri and just the other states," she told reporters Thursday at the Iowa Capitol, referencing tornadoes that swept through the central United States last weekend, killing at least 80 people.

Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation Thursday morning covering 49 counties affected by the storm that brought gusts up to 88 mph, sheets of rain and reports of more than a dozen tornadoes.

The proclamation allows residents of the affected counties making up to 200% of the federal poverty level to access the Iowa Individual Assistance Grant Program, where they can apply for grants of up to $5,000 to cover expenses like car repairs, replacing food or clothing and temporary housing. The proclamation also opens up the Disaster Case Management Program where a case manager can work with affected Iowans to create a disaster recovery plan and help them access resources.

Storm updates: Disaster proclamations issued for 43 Iowa counties impacted by Wednesday's storm

What was the damage in Iowa from the storm?

Crews were still assessing damage Thursday, and Reynolds said the investigation would help determine whether more help is needed.

The National Weather Service has said damage assessments and confirmations of tornadoes will be available in the coming days. The lone death attributed to the storm was a semi-truck driver who was killed after the truck rolled into a ditch in Benton County.

More: High winds move through Iowa, more than a dozen tornadoes spotted. Here's where they were reported

Tens of thousands of Iowa residents lost power for parts of Wednesday night. At one point, MidAmerican Energy Co. reported that 17,372 customers were without power in the Des Moines metro.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, MidAmerican was reporting about 7,900 customers statewide without power. The utility said most customers should expect to have power restored by the end of the day Thursday.

Alliant Energy was reporting more than 22,000 customers in Iowa without power Thursday afternoon. The company said in a tweet Thursday morning that its crews had already restored power to about half of its affected customers.

Reynolds said thing are moving in the right direction for restoring power to Iowans who lost electricity.

"We feel pretty good about getting them hooked back up, for the most part by tomorrow," she said.

More: Strong winds are bringing smoke, dust from Kansas wildfires to Iowa

Comparing the wind storm to 2020's derecho

She said the August 2020 derecho was "front and center on almost everybody's minds" when preparing for the storm Wednesday. Experiencing that storm, which devastated large swaths of the state with hard-hitting straight line winds, informed state agencies' approach to alerting Iowans ahead of time to be safe. And, she said, closing schools and businesses early helped ensure people weren't likely to be caught traveling outside when the winds struck.

"Unfortunately, we’re getting a little bit too much practice in knowing what we need to do to address severe weather events like this," she said. "But I thought honestly Iowans did a pretty good job of responding and really doing what they needed to do."

Reynolds said officials are still studying this week's storm to see if its wind speeds and breadth were high enough to officially categorize it as a derecho.

Watch: Tornado passes I-80 near Atlantic, Iowa

"They weren’t ready to make that call yet, but they are looking into that," she said.

All in all, Reynolds said, considering the severe potential of Wednesday's storm, the damage across Iowa could have been far worse.

"People have been impacted so I don’t want to take this lightly but we really lucked out," she said. "It could have been potentially a lot worse than it even was."

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at sgrubermil@registermedia.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Kim Reynolds issues disaster proclamation after Iowa storms, tornadoes

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