AUG 9 Derecho. In a heartbeat Aug. 10, 2020, the word was transformed from an obscure meteorological reference to a terrifying, indelible memory many Eastern Iowans would prefer to forget. And while the deep emotional and physical wounds of last year’s catastrophic storm are increasingly healed and much progress made in repairing or replacing damaged […]
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In a heartbeat Aug. 10, 2020, the word was transformed from an obscure meteorological reference to a terrifying, indelible memory many Eastern Iowans would prefer to forget.
And while the deep emotional and physical wounds of last year’s catastrophic storm are increasingly healed and much progress made in repairing or replacing damaged structures, there are many for whom the recovery is far from complete. And some damage, particularly the loss of 80,000 trees in Cedar Rapids — more than half the city’s total tree canopy — will take decades to recover.
While the most significant volume of damage occurred in the greater Cedar Rapids and Marion areas, large swaths of central and Eastern Iowa felt the storm’s full force, with winds of up to 140 mph pelting the state for as much as 40 minutes.
The Washington Post reported last October that the derecho, which started in Iowa before racing through Illinois and Indiana, was the costliest thunderstorm event in U.S. history, with damages totaling $7.5 billion at that time, including agricultural damage. The total has undoubtedly grown since then.
The Iowa Insurance Division hasn’t tracked total insurance claims by geography. Still, communications director Chance McElhaney said that as of July 30, the state’s insurance carriers had reported 223,410 claims for a total of $3.125 billion in claims paid. Another 17,291 claims remained open in various stages of progress.
Still, the numbers only tell part of the story. Here are others, from some of those who dealt with the aftermath most directly.
Home repair work will persist
Jim Sattler, president of the Greater Cedar Rapids Housing and Building Association, said that while it may appear to a casual observer that the majority of repair and reconstruction projects have been completed, much more work remains — especially for homes that sustained interior or other structural damage beyond the more visible roofing and siding issues.
“Especially when it comes to a very complicated rebuilding or remodel, if your roof was off and your kitchen needed to be rebuilt — some of these homes practically had to be started over,” Mr. Sattler said. “By the time you started budgeting and getting approval from the insurance company, then line up materials and labor, some of those become pretty major projects.”
In late July, Mr. Sattler said he met with one homeowner whose home rebuilding project hadn’t even been started due to complications with the mortgage lender and the insurance company.
“It probably will be started in the next few months, but then it will take six to eight months to rebuild, pretty much from the foundation up,” he said. “I would say many projects will linger on, certainly into the spring if not August of next year. There’s a large percentage of these projects that won’t be completed until the second anniversary (of the storm). Maybe 80 or 90% will be complete, but because of circumstances, there certainly are projects that will hit that two-year anniversary. And there’s still jobs that have not been completed on the outside.”
As those repair windows remain open, and the Insurance Division advises consumers and contractors to be wary of insurance-related deadlines, Mr. Sattler suggested keeping the lines of communication open.
“The consumer should communicate with the insurance companies and say, because the virus and the storm, there’s certainly a backlog of getting material, so those claims will need to be kept open for a longer timeframe, which is certainly permissible and reasonable and necessary,” he said.
Perhaps the highest-profile recovery group to emerge from the derecho, Together We Achieve, and the associated Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Center was established to address immediate storm recovery needs. Still, founder Raymond Siddell says he finds unmet needs that will propel his agency’s mission for months and years to come.
On average, Mr. Siddell said Together We Achieve continues to serve around 1,700 households per month, and just in June, the group saw a 28% increase in clients that had not previously been served.
“The other thing we’re seeing is individuals who visited us early on, shortly after the derecho, and they’re coming back around,” he said. “They weren’t regular visitors on a weekly or monthly basis, but we’re seeing some of them come back now.”
“We were born out of the derecho, and we could have closed our doors six months in and said we did what we could have done,” he said. “But my goal going forward is going to be to engage with the needs that we’re experiencing. I don’t know exactly what that looks like from day to day, or even a month or a year out, but we do know that the needs of our community are changing.
“(With the derecho anniversary), we’re celebrating the resiliency of our community,” he added. “That’s what we need to be focused on to ensure that when we look back and when we look forward, we’re proud of the community that we live in and take pride in the fact that if someone is experiencing challenges they’ve never experienced before, there are organizations and resources that will continue to step up to do the right thing.”
The need is great, more than 16 months after derecho
Organizations and programs that emerged out of the devastating storm that ripped through Eastern Iowa on Aug. 10, 2020, continue to fill a significant need in our communities.
The nonprofit Together We Achieve achieve’s goal for 2021 was to distribute 12,000 food boxes. Together We Achieve’s founder and president Raymond Siddell says the group exceeded that goal by distributing more than 13,000 food boxes by the end of 2021. He says the need kept growing as 2021 marched on.
“We’re attributing that to rising gas prices, rising grocery prices and still the uncertainty that some individuals are facing with eviction or foreclosure status because … they’re pinching every penny to try to make rent happen.”
Mr. Siddell says it will take two to five years for households to recover from the emotional and financial hit of the pandemic and derecho.
“Not necessarily be fully recovered because they’re going to restock their savings accounts, their retirement accounts, the college savings accounts, whatever it was that they ended up pulling from to survive the pandemic as well as rebuild from the storm.”
The derecho also heavily impacted a large area that lost an estimated 65% of its tree cover due to the August 2020 derecho.
ReLeaf Cedar Rapids is an initiative led by Trees Forever in partnership with the City of Cedar Rapids to replant and grow the tree canopy lost in the catastrophic storm.
Trees Forever says it supports 42 projects valued at $142,000 with Planting Hope, a campaign that began after the storm. The campaign is raising more than $5 million in private funds. Those private funds will match $5 million in public funding already committed by the City of Cedar Rapids for a total of $10 million.
— Becky Lutgen Gardner