“This is bigger than the 2008 Flood”: Cedar Rapids requests more help in Derecho recovery

People are cleaning up damage left by Monday's storm.
People are cleaning up damage left by Monday's storm.
Published: Aug. 13, 2020 at 3:41 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Cedar Rapids city leaders emphasized they feel the pain of citizens from Monday’s derecho, calling it worse than the 2008 flood, and announcing requests for more resources. Alliant Energy added it may take 5-7 days before power is “substantially” restored in the Cedar Rapids area.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said the city has requested additional resources from Linn County Emergency Management and the State of Iowa. But he said that it was up to those agencies on whether the National Guard would be deployed, noting that they would need to give specific work for the Guard. Governor Kim Reynolds is scheduled to meet with Cedar Rapids city leaders Friday to discuss those requests for additional resources. Reynolds issued a state disaster declaration Tuesday for areas the derecho hit, freeing up state funding for recovery efforts.

Mayor Brad Hart told KCRG-TV9 that he and Pomeranz initially discussed making a request for the Iowa National Guard on Tuesday but determined that it was not necessary at the time.

“I want to ensure our citizens that we understand the magnitude and impacts of what has occurred in our city and we have a plan, we have responded but there is much, much more to be done,” Pomeranz said.

The city has faced criticism from several people still dealing with damage, power outages and more impacts from Monday’s storm for a slow response and lack of communication. Thursday’s news conference was the first city leaders have held since Monday’s storm.

Pomeranz says issues with power and telecommunications have made it difficult to communicate with each other as well as with the public. He said the city put off plans for a news conference earlier in the week because of limited cell coverage and access to TV signals.

Pomeranz said the city has made huge progress in recovery from Monday’s Derecho in just 72 hours under extreme circumstances, noting record calls for emergency response and herculean efforts to clear damage and debris from streets. However, he acknowledged that in many ways, but especially in the scope of damage across the city, this disaster is worse than the devastating floods of 2008.

“Every area of our city has seen destruction and the impact goes well beyond the city of Cedar Rapids,” Pomeranz said. “This is a different situation than we’ve faced before, the magnitude and the impacts are more than the 2008 flood. The flood touched 15 square miles of the city, this storm touched all 75 square miles.”

Cedar Rapids news conference

City of Cedar Rapids responds to storm damage and recovery from Monday's derecho.

Posted by KCRG-TV9 on Thursday, August 13, 2020

Mike Wagner with Alliant Energy noted the size and scope of the damage across the state has made this especially challenging for crews to restore electricity. Alliant had 240,000 customers without power after the storm and has been able to restore power to about 100,000. Alliant has called in hundreds of workers from surrounding areas to help restore power but says it will be 5-7 days before power is substantially restored in the area.

“This damage is like nothing our company has ever seen,” Wagner said. “Nearly every circuit in the city has been impacted by this storm.”

Wagner said he understands the frustration with the slow work to restore power and urged patience because of that extensive damage. He sais damage power meters may slow that restoration for some homeowners, saying those people need to call an electrician to repair the meter before Alliant can reconnect power.

The city is using snow plows to help clear streets of debris and downed trees. Jen Winter with the city’s Public Works Department says crews remain focused on clearing streets, replacing damaged street signs and removing debris. Winter says the city has called in private contractors to help haul away a “staggering” amount of debris. Homeowners can place tree debris curbside in 10-foot chunks for collection and keep it separate from other garbage or debris.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said a citywide curfew at 10:00 PM will stay in place to help in recovery. He also noted that stops with downed stop signs or broken traffic signals should be treated as a 4-way stop for safety.

The Cedar Rapids Fire Department also warned of increased calls for carbon monoxide from generators and injuries from the cleanup. Fire Chief Greg Smith also noted smoke from burning debris is harmful to people with breathing trouble who have their windows open now, noting open burning is illegal in city limits.

Representative Abby Finkenauer, who’s home in the Cedar Rapids area sustained damage, also spoke at Thursday’s news conference after announcing she has sent a letter to the White House requesting a federal disaster declaration.

“This is described as a hurricane that hit the Midwest but this is worse than a hurricane because you have time to prepare for a hurricane,” Finkenauer said. “There was no time to prepare for this.”

Rep. Finkenauer also criticized the lack of national media coverage on the disaster unfolding in Iowa from the derecho.

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