Storm Strikes: Power Poles Knocked Down Leaving Moundridge In The Dark

McPHERSON COUNTY – On July 14 a storm rolled through McPherson County.

It struck the southern part of the county the worst.

In Inman, tree limbs were knocked down and Sweetwater Farms received damage.

Owned by John and Chris Hershberger, Sweetwater Farms is an Italian eatery in the middle of the plains that has been in operation for 20 years.

John Hershberger is the cook, and Chris Hershberger is an artist. The roof of her art studio was damaged and the top of the couple’s 40-foot bell tower was ripped off.

Sweetwater Farms is also home to Sweetwater Sprouts, which produces more than 10,000 pounds of sprouts per week that are sold throughout the Midwest.

The most noticeable mark the storm left, though, was the approximately 20 downed power lines that left Moundridge without power for 28 hours.

The lights went out at 8 p.m. July 14 and came back on at 12:13 a.m. Thursday.

Moundridge receives its electricity from the McPherson Board of Public Utilities, and the poles that fell to the ground were around the intersection of 18th Avenue and Old 81 Highway.

The morning of July 15, Moundridge Telephone Company’s Dave Ptacek and Kevin Schmidt, with the help of Schmidt’s 6-year-old son Braden, were putting generators on their phone boxes to ensure customers continued to have a dial tone.

“Nobody has been without a dial tone,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said it was rare for Moundridge Telephone to have to put generators on the boxes to help the battery-backup system that is already in place on the boxes.

“The ice storm was the last time we had to do this,” Ptacek said.
Schmidt said he got to see the damage because one of their phone boxes was near the area of downed poles.

“They have a heck of a mess out there,” he said.

The exact cause of the downed poles hasn’t been determined, but speculation says it was either straight-line winds or a microburst, which is a very localized column of sinking air that spreads out in all directions producing damaging, according to online definitions of the term.

July 15 did see cooler temperatures than the area had experienced of late, which was a good thing, Schmidt said.

“Thank God it’s not 105 degrees,” he said.

Shelly Allenbach of the City of Moundridge said she didn’t know exactly how many people were without power, but she said they bill 800 customers in the city limits.

“We have just a few outside that we service,” she said. “Our population here is around 1,750.”

Allenbach said the population includes Memorial Home and Moundridge Manor residents, but those Moundridge residents don’t get billed separately.
McPherson BPU has been Moundridge’s electricity provider for 20 years, Allenbach said.

As of July 15, Allenbach said BPU told the city power would be restored “late today or tonight, baring and problems,” and they hit their mark.

A few Moundridge businesses had generators running in order to keep their doors open.

Porter Chiropractic was able to stay open, as was the Moundridge Food Market and both Memorial Home and Moundridge Manor and the hospital.
Goering Hardware was open too, thanks to a PTO driven generator on the back of a large tractor.

Deb Shaw of Goering Hardware said staying open during a power outage was vital.

“It’s very important to be open,” she said. “We can’t run computers, but we have to be open for the customers.”

Goering Hardware’s Adam Becker said it is common to see more customers during an event such as a power outage.

Shaw said the generator ran Goering Hardware’s lights and phone, and the one generator the store had for sale sold right away to someone wishing to keep electricity flowing in their home.

Brenda Schrag kept her downtown flower shop, Memory Lane Flowers and Gifts, open despite the lack of power.

“At least I can see people drive by here,” she said. “At home, it’s just nothing.”

Schrag said the lack of electricity caused her to worry the most about her flower cooler.

“I’ll have to throw everything in it away,” she said. “I’m glad I didn’t get an order in on Monday like I usually do.”

Schrag said she estimated a lost of $200 in flowers, but she said it could have been worse had her shipment come in July 13.

Schrag said she also worried about her flower cooler when the power came back on because the compressor would be working twice as hard to cool everything back down.

McPherson BPU only had nine poles on hand to start replacing the snapped poles.

A shipment of extra poles arrived from Dallas at 3:30 p.m. July 15.

Moundridge didn’t just sit on its hands during the outage, though. Crews form the city helped BPU set poles.

Jeremy Johnson and Rob Smyth of Moundridge joined the 30 to 40 BPU workers.

“It was fun,” Johnson said. “It was good to get the power on quickly. We were happy to go help them.”

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