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Eastern Iowa Cemeteries struggle to cover cost of repairs following derecho

Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 6:38 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Century-old trees down and headstones toppled. That’s a familiar scene at both Oak Shade Cemetery in Marion and Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids.

More than two months after the derecho, cemeteries are still assessing the damage.

“About 30 to 50% of total trees in Oak Shade are a complete loss,” Seth Staashelm, interim parks and recreation director for Marion, said.

The city owns this historic cemetery and Staashelm says safety is a major concern.

“There was a lot of liability within the trees so we had the cemetery closed off for quite a while," Staashelm said.

They cleaned up enough for people to use the roads, but are still urging caution as they continue to assess damage over the next couple of weeks, and figuring out how much all this will cost.

“Something we have been messaging out to the public is if they do have headstones or grave markers that are damaged to contact their homeowner’s insurance,” Staashelm added.

However, for those not covered, there’s another option. The Friends of Oak Shade Cemetery is paying to cover some of the costs for repairs, if those who are buried don’t have family members who can help.

“The Friends group has been working diligently. They have been marking sections of concern for contractors and us to be able to do our clean up and so the necessary work,” said Staashelm.

The derecho’s impact was similar at Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids. By state law, these cemeteries cannot access their perpetual care funds to recover from a disaster.

“We’re just able to do the work we have going on here in any given year, the mowing, and the trimming, so an incident like this if we were to anticipate potentially $50,000 in trying to complete all the work here. We do not have the cash on hand to do that," Linda Langston, member of the board for the cemetery, said.

So they’re having conversations with their insurance commissioner, as well as the city, which owns a portion of the cemetery.

“With something like this, it’s anywhere from a small one that’s knocked over to a large one that might be 15 or 20 foot tall that is knocked over. So it’s not a small thing,” Carl Thoerson, Oak Hill’s superintendent, said.

For now, Thoreson said volunteers have helped lessen the financial hit.

“We have had over 100 volunteers in 8 or 10 different groups. Those people are great and have saved us a lot,' Thoerson said.

The timeline for completion at Oak Hill is April, but both cemeteries say more helping hands would make the work go faster.

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