In the course of one week, Vinton residents watched one repair project that resulted from the July 17 tornado, hunkered down for another thunderstorm with 70-90 mph winds and spent this morning shoveling more than 8 inches of snow from a storm that resulted in local schools canceling classes.
Last week, during the warm dry stretch that most of Iowa has enjoyed, workers installed new lights at the Vinton-Shellsburg baseball field, where the July 17 tornado started. The fence and scoreboard of that field were also among the first casualties of that tornado. The beams supporting the scoreboard have been set up, along with the new fencing and lights.
Last Monday, Benton County suffered some damage from a series of thunderstorms that quickly passed through Iowa, although there was minimal damage in Vinton.
“We had all fire department spotters out at least ten minutes before the storms reached Benton county,” says Benton County Emergency Management Agency Director Scott Hansen. “The first reports were from Belle Plaine and Keystone areas with 75-90 mph winds. That’s when we activated the sirens we can control from our office and recommended to the other cities that control theirs to activate them as well. We received only scattered reports of minor damage. A few trees blocking roads, part of a roof damaged in Blairstown, scattered power outages. Of course not everything gets reported to us so there could have been more.”
Vinton residents complained about two problems with Monday’s storm to city officials, and discussed them at Thursday’s council meeting.
First, several people questioned the tone of the city’s sirens. Some residents described the sound they heard as a “quacking,” like a duck’s. Others compared it to a ship’s foghorn.
A maintenance crew was scheduled to visit Vinton to inspect the sirens on Tuesday, city clerk Cindy Michael told the council during Thursday’s meeting. One of the challenges with the sirens is that the company that originally installed them has gone out of business due to the retirement of its owner, said Micheal, who added that the man who owns the maintenance company is also planning on retiring in the near future.
During the meeting, Vinton Police Department Captain Eric Dickinson reminded that the sirens are for outdoor warnings only; those inside should have weather radars, he said.
There was also a debate about the voice commands that follow the siren. One resident said that it seemed more dangerous to him for residents to stand and wait for the instructions that follow the sound, instead of immediately taking shelter.
Dickinson explained that the voice instructions were added because some people had complained years ago that they did not know what kind of danger the sirens were alerting.
Storm shelter concerns
Also, during the meeting, the council heard that the Don Martin storm shelter on the west end of town, near the trailer court, was locked when residents tried to enter it.
“It took them 10 minutes to find the key,” said resident Jeff Young, who reminded the city council that 1 minute can make a huge difference in a storm.
The building was designed with a glass-enclosed box that holds a key, but vandals have repeated broken that glass and stolen the key.
Mayor John Watson told Young that he agreed the problem needs fixed.
“We will do our very best to make sure that does not happen again,” said the Mayor.
Young suggested that each police officer be given a key; an officer arrived withing four minutes, he said.