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‘We’re hurting’: Cedar Rapids woman hopes sharing her story calls attention to those still struggling with derecho recovery

Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 11:17 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The cry for help of, “We’re hurting,” was made too many times to count by eastern Iowans in the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho.

Nearly nine months later, a Cedar Rapids woman is still making that plea on behalf of people, like herself, who say they did not get all the assistance they need.

“People need help here,” Kimmy Schmadeke said.

Schmadeke has lived in a trailer on Cedar Rapids’ southwest side for more than 20 years.

The derecho ripped the skirting off her trailer, moved it off its foundation, blew her insulation off, and tore through her roof. The most severe damage came to her bathroom, where water poured in through the damaged roof.

“Water was running down the walls, and the roof was caving in and literally falling in. It was just bad,” Schmadeke said. “It has to be completely gutted and everything replaced in it.”

The total cost for all her repairs is around $22,000, according to Schmadeke, who does not have insurance and works part-time as a taxicab driver.

She made multiple trips to the FEMA Assistance Center at Veterans Memorial Stadium, filled out online forms, and even wrote a letter.

“I had never been through FEMA before, so I didn’t know what the experience was going to be like, and it was a very horrible journey,” she said.

And three times, her full request for assistance was denied.

She said the third denial was the most difficult, as FEMA’s requests for additional documentation at that point made her hopeful that appeal would lead to a more fruitful outcome.

“It just knocked the wind out of me,” she said. “I was — sorry, I’m going to get emotional — it just killed me, because I didn’t know how I was going to fix all this stuff.”

As Schmadeke was working through the denial and appeals process, she agreed to share her story with Hannah Dreier, a national reporter with The Washington Post, to be a voice for so many Iowans still struggling months after the derecho.

“And there are hundreds,” Schmadeke said. “Hundreds. I meet them every night, driving taxis, and they tell me their stories and how FEMA didn’t help them, their insurance isn’t covering them, and they’re fighting their insurance companies.”

The story made the front page of The Post on Monday and caught the attention of people who wanted to help Schmadeke to fill the gaps where the government didn’t.

The local organization Matthew 25, which worked on some of Schmadeke’s repairs, set up a GoFundMe for her after so many people reached out, wanting to donate. In just over 24 hours, it had raised more than $15,000.

“I just can’t believe the kindness of strangers. It’s overwhelming. It put me on an emotional rollercoaster because that was not my intent when this started at all,” Schmadeke said.

She hopes her story persuades FEMA to make changes to its disaster assistance program to better serve the people who need help.

“But most importantly, I think the people that are hurting like me just need to come out of the woodwork and tell their story,” she said.

While TV9 was interviewing Schmadeke on Tuesday, a representative from 1st District Congresswoman Ashley Hinson’s office stopped by to talk with her.

Hinson is encouraging residents of her district who still need help with disaster recovery to get in contact with her office. People can do so by calling the district office nearest to them or by filling out the online contact form on her website.

“Our district is still reeling from the derecho and FEMA’s response has, frankly, been inadequate to help people recover from the destruction and devastation the derecho left in its wake — Kim’s story and experience is all too common. I’m hopeful we can help Kim, and any others in Iowa’s first district who have experienced issues with FEMA’s individual assistance program,” Hinson said in a statement to TV9.

FEMA said it has provided more than $11 million dollars in grants to more than 3,000 households the derecho impacted, mostly in Linn County.

FEMA spokesperson John Mills said people can still offer documentation of damage they have not already reported.

“FEMA’s programs are not designed to make all of the repairs to restore all of the damage that may have occurred, just enough money to help people who don’t have insurance restore their home to a habitable condition, and FEMA does require documentation to support those claims,” Mills said.

Mills said FEMA also isn’t allowed by law to duplicate any insurance benefits or other assistance provided by a charitable group or another government program.

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