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A look back at the 2020 Derecho

Published: Jan. 2, 2021 at 5:45 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -It’s been our months since the derecho changed some parts of Eastern Iowa forever. Just drive around. Tree trunks at the curb waiting for pickup. Roofs waiting for repair. People wondering, as they trudge in the snow and look at the damage, wondering: what’s next in all of this?

Here is how the process looks in Cedar Rapids...

As 2020 shifted into 2021, the derecho damage from August still lingers over parts of Cedar Rapids; even in the welcome sign on southbound I-380, where even the little parts of the sign meant to represent buildings aren’t there.

From the symbolic to the real-life in the city, blue tarps still cover some houses, and even the most dramatic damage from August-such as an apartment complex on 12th Avenue SW-still doesn’t have a roof and now snow fills bedrooms and bathrooms.

On Monday, December 28th, more than 4 months after the storm, demolition crews finally took out a house near Pierce Elementary after a massive tree crashed through the middle of it.

Then, remember the house on Wenig Road NE (across the street from Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School) from August 10? We do. Hours after the storm hit, I flew my drone over the home.

On Monday, I came back to get more drone video and the homeowner, Mike Sion, happened to pull in with his pick-up truck to do some work on the property. Mike and his family are okay. He said insurance is taking care of him and he’s a in a rental home with more square footage.

“I believe they’re going to tear it down and rebuild,” said Sion, who’s roof was riffed off by the derecho. “Use the frame, the foundation. Who knows how long because materials are hard to get right now. Labor is hard to get right now. I’m guessing they’ll start it in the spring is my dream and hope.”

Depending on the neighborhood, tree debris, fencing, shingles, the occasional trampoline, it all sits, awaiting winter pickup.

“At some point in early 2021, we will let residents know the deadline on when to have material out,” said Jen Winter, Cedar Rapids Public Works Director. “At this point, we don’t feel like we’re ready to put that date out there. Still a lot of trees that have to come down and cleanup that has to be done. Residents still have time.”

Winter took us through the city’s approach to this next stage of cleaning up the city, with an eye to the next years and decades.

“The focus, right now, is on taking down the trees that are still standing that are hazardous,” said Winter. “That’s taking a little bit of time. The first pass we had to do before snowfall, some of the really dangerous hanging limbs we wanted to get down. We had the contractor take a pass to get those down and they had to go back through and take down the ones that had full tree damage. Those had to come down. So, right now, we’re still focusing on the neighborhoods and on pickup in the heavier neighborhoods, but the focus on January will continue to get those trees down.”

Winter said the city estimates up to 30,000 trees from parks to the curbs lost from the storm back in August.

For months, the debris pickup trucks rumbled through the city, dropping off trees and branches to a disposal location in the Time Check neighborhood of Northwest Cedar Rapids. But this, however, is not the final destination, either.

“We take the debris there, it gets mulched and we have a separate contractor that hauls it away and there’s a variety of locations and uses for that,” said Winter. “Right now, the contractor has some large ag land and a lot of it is being stock piled there.”

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