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’It feels like I’m in a third world nation’: Pleas of help come from Cedar Rapids complex

Published: Aug. 15, 2020 at 10:54 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - On the southwest side of Cedar Rapids, there’s a community of refugees that have now been displaced from their homes due to Monday’s derecho.

“It feels like I’m in a third world nation, this to me seems as if its our version of Katrina minus the deaths,” said Kelly McMahon, a kindergarten teacher at Hoover. She said that she didn’t think twice about coming to help as some of her students were affected by the damage.

“This is part of the work that we do, as a community school at Hoover is to help our community out as needed,” she added.

McMahon was one of dozens of volunteers on Saturday that came to provide food, water, and an extra hand of help. She says that’s not enough.

“This is people living in apartments with no roofs, no front walls, the fronts of the patios off, wires just hanging down, trying to put tents up on top of rubble,” she said. “Five days in, where in the world is our government helping us out?”

The damage is consistent through the complex’s half-dozen buildings. Roofs are torn off and sitting on the ground with sharp nails sticking out and pointing up. Due to the structures being deemed uninhabitable, residents have set up tents and have been staying in them overnight since Monday.

“I’m from Africa,” one resident said. “My English {is} no good, too much people sleeping here outside. No good, no good. Everyday, everyday.”

Residents say that about 85% of the people who lived in the complex don’t speak English.

“Most of them they are a community, like people from Central Africa, Burundi, Congo,”

The language barrier makes it harder for residents to know where or how to seek assistance.

“Its hard for them to even ask for help cause of communication so you don’t know what they need exactly.”

Since Monday, residents have taken donated food and cooked for each other in the parking lot while also relying on various local non-profits who bring necessary supplies. Many are scared to leave, having to restart their lives from zero.

“They are not from here right?” said Michael Ilunga, who was at the complex helping clean up. “They are from other countries so everything they have is what you see over here, they don’t have families around they can call.”

During the day, there are children playing optimistically while the adults are left to wonder when more help will come.

“We need to be able to call out our leaders and ask them where are you at this point, at this time,” said Nancy Mwirotsi, who drove in from Des Moines to help. “They need to be here to see this because this is Iowa, you know Iowa Nice? We have people who don’t have houses and were not talking about one, two, three. We’re talking about hundreds of families that will probably be sleeping in their cars.”

On Saturday, emergency officials said that vans would be arriving to transport people to shelters.

“These people should’ve been in shelters on Monday night,” McMahon said. “Why is it now Saturday night and we’re finally getting them into shelters? We should be helping our most vulnerable first and that’s not what were doing.”

“How do we rally people to tell them to come in and help clean up,” Mwirotsi said. “Decency, humanity, these are people. They might not speak the same language as you, they are in this country because some of them are here to seek refuge. I always tell people that America is one of the greatest places, we need to be able to show them that it actually is.”

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