Vinton Nearing Full Recovery After Devastating Wind Storm
By Sam Lane, Reporter
VINTON, Iowa – The sun is shining brightly these days on the streets in the bustling river town of Vinton.
But many residents here seem to hate it.
One year ago, winds reaching 130 mph ripped through the town. In a span of 10 minutes, the gusts wiped out more than 60 percent of Vinton’s hulking, sugar maple and elm trees and damaged buildings on every block in town.
“The most amazing thing is it’s so very bright in town all the time,” said Vinton Mayor John Watson. “You used to go down 4th and 5th Streets and it was nice and shady. You could go for blocks and still be in the shade. It’s just sun now.”
But a vigorous replanting program is in the works and structures in Vinton are around 95 percent rebuilt, Watson said, adding his first thought upon seeing the result of the storm was “sheer amazement.”
“I was in such awe of the damage that had happened,” Watson said. “We were waiting for someone to say ‘we found so-and-so and they’re hurt.’ But that never happened.”
Instead of injuries, though, Vinton sustained well over $1 million in total damage, including at least $750,000 in destruction to the town’s electric utility. Many customers were without power for a week or more.
Andy Lent, Vinton’s city coordinator, said he was listening to his weather radio, tracking 60 to 70 mph winds coming east from Tama. The storm was not out of the ordinary, he remembered thinking.
“But then the bottom dropped out and it tunneled toward our area,” Lent said.
Immediately after the storm hit, Watson and other officials took to the town’s streets, clearing downed trees and debris from a main thoroughfare that leads to Vinton’s hospital. The emergency doors of the hospital were blown completely inwards, Watson said.
Kevin Hesson, the apartment manager for Hummel Apartments in Vinton, said he was on his way back from Guatemala when the storm hit. One of Hummel’s buildings sustained significant damage and now sits as a pile of debris. Hesson, who has lived in Vinton since 1984, said it was a challenge when they had to deal with all the residents displaced as a result of the destruction.
“I think there’s a greater sense of community,” Hesson said of changes in the town since the gusts. “There’s also a greater awareness. When storms come through, people really pay attention. I don’t think a lot of people here realized the magnitude of the storm.
The city contracted to take care of nearly 500 fallen trees after the storm and officials are just now getting ready to grind 800 stumps that remain.
“I look at it as more of an opportunity now,” Lent said of the potential for tree diversity and beautification in the area.
And despite the challenges Vinton faced, its residents have come together, Watson said.
“It’s fantastic to be a Midwesterner,” he said. “We would walk down the street and there was a whole crowd of people helping.”
Since the storm, officials in Vinton have followed in the footsteps of many other eastern Iowa cities, deciding to sound severe weather sirens whenever winds reach 70 mph. Before, the sirens would only sound when trained spotters witnessed funnel clouds in the area. That’s often difficult at night, though.
Besides the lack of shade and some rubble in various areas, it’s hard to tell the Vinton community faced such a disaster a year ago. And that’s the way they seem to like it.
“We’re back,” Watson said. “We’re good.”
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