It’s amazing how quickly something can happen that changes the rest of your life! How a storm like a derecho can devastate so many communities!
I realize this is not a travel-related post like you’re used to seeing from me, but after going through this, I had to write something about it.
Friday night, August 7th, we got home after camping for a week and I spent the weekend being lazy around the house spending time with my pup! I woke up Monday morning feeling very motivated! I was going to get stuff done so I started a big load of laundry, loaded up the dishwasher, and sat down at my computer to start paying bills.
That’s when I got a text from my mother giving me a heads up about a storm heading our way. So I pulled up the radar on my phone and turned the mid-day news on. They talked about how bad they thought the storm would be. They mentioned that the winds were actually blowing semi-trucks and cars off the roads and that it was going to be the worst storm we’d seen yet this year. The sirens started going off outside, but I couldn’t really see much coming yet. I went outside and pulled my trash carts and some furniture into the garage. Not everything, because the stuff in my backyard doesn’t usually get pushed around so I figured they’d be okay.
I Was Wrong!
I typically love storms! I’m usually standing at the window (if not outside – sorry mom) watching it roll in. This time I got Wrigley into the lower level and went to check out what was happening. However, I could tell Wrigley was getting scared as the storm started picking up. She’s my baby, so I went downstairs, closed the blinds, and sat on the couch holding her. (Honestly, I was getting scared too.) The noise outside got louder and louder. Things were being tossed around outside. Then the lights flickered and went out. Luckily, since I had just gotten back from camping, my flashlights were readily available.
The sounds outside kept getting worse. The wind was making this horrible whistling sound and I could hear other loud noises but couldn’t identify what they were. It honestly sounded like something was going to come into one of the windows or that a window/wall might be blown away. So, I picked up Wrigley (a 60-pound pitbull) and took her into the bathroom downstairs. I sat her down and quickly sneaked over to the smaller windows and peeked through the blinds. Other than whipping wind and a blanket of rain, I could tell that some branch or limb had fallen in the front yard.
There we sat, scared out of our minds. I had one blanket wrapped around Wrigley, trying to calm her, and another one around both of us. By some miracle, my mother (who lives 30 minutes south) was able to get through to me on the phone. Having her on the other end was such a blessing. The only time I’ve ever been remotely as scared as I was during this storm was the day that my mother almost died. This was an entirely different kind of scared though!
I Sat There for What Felt Like Forever!
The whistling, or screeching, of the wind. The sound of things, that I now know were trees, fences, and furniture, being tossed around. Things smashing into the windows. The water in the toilet next to us being vacuumed out. Now, two weeks out, and every time I close my eyes to go to sleep, I still hear those noises!
The storm went on for about 45 minutes, but it felt like much longer. Later we would find out that the storm itself was called a derecho and the wind we had was actually 112-140 mph. To give you some perspective, that’s the wind speed of a category 3 to 4 hurricane. This was the wind we had throughout the entire storm. Eventually, the screeching slowed. I could still hear some claps of thunder and rain, but I decided to slowly come out of hiding and see what was going on. I made Wrigley stay downstairs because I didn’t really know what was happening. As I got upstairs, my first thought was relief that it didn’t appear that anything had gotten into the house. I peeked out a window. I remember crying on the phone to my mother saying ‘oh mom, this is bad, this is really bad’.
And it Really Was!
We ended our call while I did some more reconnaissance. Looking out the windows, they were soaked and covered in what I now call ‘tree vomit’. Seriously, it looked as if the leaves had gone through a shredder and then been hosed all over everything. I looked in the backyard and I could tell that there were more than just a couple branches down from this derecho.
The entire top of my neighbors’ tree had fallen into my yard. It smashed my chairs around the fire pit, the fire pit, crushed my hydrangea bushes, and was lodged into the fence at both ends. About 10 feet of my fence was missing. My patio table was upside down in the yard. My grill had been knocked over, and the rack from inside and grill tools had been blown across the patio. One patio chair I had left out had done a few somersaults and was now located across the yard. Miraculously, the giant oak tree in the back yard was still standing. Since I bought this house, it’s always been in the back of my mind that if that tree fell it would smash my house, so I was so relieved it was still standing. It was significantly thinned out on one side, but it was still standing!
I made it to the side door along the driveway. From here I could tell that the siding on my garage had been pulled off and was flapping in the wind. There was a tree in my neighbors’ garage and the tree in her front yard had a large limb on the ground.
Looking Out the Front
I was hesitant and scared to move to the front of the house and see what it looked like outside. The tree vomit was everywhere! To the right, I could see more downed limbs in my neighbors’ yard. Across the street, there were large limbs still hanging from a tree, dangling dangerously over and close to a house. Branches littered the entire street. Further down, all you could see was green.
To the left, the large tree in my front yard had two limbs hanging off the tree, right next to the house. How one of them didn’t go right through my bedroom window I have no idea! A third limb had completely fallen off the tree, onto another tree. The second tree was bent over into the neighbors’ tree, with this larger limb pushing it over. It wasn’t attached to anything, just somehow stuck there in the tree. Again, miraculously none of these went into my house. My large tree, that had provided so much shade to my house, was now just large sticks in the air. Further up the road, you could see trees laying across the road completely blocking traffic.
As I ventured outside to inspect the damage, I couldn’t help but cry. It was still spitting rain, you could hear thunder, and it was still, slightly, windy (NOTHING like before). Almost immediately you could hear the sound of chainsaws. I was in shock. When I worked for The Salvation Army I saw disasters. I helped provide assistance after tornadoes and floods. I’ve seen people devastated from disaster. It is COMPLETELY different when you’re on the other side. When it’s your neighborhood that’s been ravished. Your community that’s been crushed. Your neighbors that are hurting.
A Neighborhood Devastated by a Derecho
I began walking down the road, inspecting the damage around the neighborhood and checking on my neighbors. My next-door neighbor had been caught in her car during the storm with her 5-year-old child in the parking lot of the church at the entrance to the neighborhood. She couldn’t make it back because the trees just started falling all over the roads. As I walked down the street, one neighbor had part of his tree fall down and knock the top off the back of his truck. He also had the other part of the tree hanging down, blocking his front door.
Another neighbor had an evergreen tree completely fall over. The base of the tree was taller than the house was, and was longer than it as well. Essentially, the tree blocked the entire house once it was on the ground. The majority of their back fence was gone, along with the trees in the back yard. Another neighbor, who has a house with the same layout as mine, ended up with a tree essentially in her kitchen after it fell over on top of the garage and living room spaces.
There were so many trees that had been completely uprooted during this derecho. Trees weren’t just down, but they had pulled the roots right up, making the grass cover around it look like carpet hanging in the air. Many people lost siding. One neighbor had their entire brick chimney stack fall off the house. There were trees down in every single yard. Every single road was blocked by down trees. One way my neighborhood lucked out was that our wires are buried, so none of the trees that fell got tangled in wires, even though we still did lose power.
Trees Down Everywhere
A couple of blocks down a neighbor had a large tree in the front yard fall down, blocking the entire front of the house, landing on top of their RV, and pulling up some gas lines. Even the bricks that laid around the base of the tree were now in the air as the roots were torn up. On the side of the house, another large tree fell down, blocking part of the street and that side of the house. In the back, yet another large tree fell down, this time taking out their sunroom and kitchen! One branch even stabbed its way through the wall into the bedroom.
Further up the road, one garage was completely blown away….onto the neighbors’ deck. Into thousands of pieces. The church at the entrance to our neighborhood, the one where my neighbor had been stuck, had one entire wall and the roof blown off. HUGE pieces of siding wrapped around trees. Pieces of insulation were everywhere. All over the parking lot, the road, and into the parking lot of the next-door church and neighbors’ yards.
Amidst the sound of chainsaws, you heard neighbors yelling to each other asking if they were okay. One of the older neighbors (probably late 80’s) just wanted to pick up the solar yard light he had that had been tossed around the yard. As I bent over to pick it up for him, I noticed that his flagpole, a tall feature in his yard, was completely bent over. It wasn’t snapped, it was bent at the base and lying flat. When you looked down the side streets all you saw was green! Bright green trees blocking every single road! In every single yard. On top of many houses!
Back at Home
When I finished my walk and got back home, I noticed that two of the limbs from the tree in the front had been pulled down! I had been worried about another gust of wind putting them right through the windows, so I was grateful to my neighbor for getting them down for me! It’s hard to know where to start with something of this magnitude.
My mother knew I was okay, but I hadn’t talked to anyone else yet. Did they have any idea of what had just happened? As I was standing there on my driveway in awe, my phone rang. It was my brother in Chicago. My mother told him about the storm so he called to check-in. It took everything inside me not to start crying on the phone. I warned him about the storm since it was heading in their direction. After the call, I sent a couple of pictures of the destruction caused by the derecho to my family, and then I got to work.
I’ll admit, I’m not the strongest person and I don’t spend a lot of time outside at home because of a rare disease I have, but there wasn’t time to worry about that. I just started grabbing branches and pulling them to the road. After I moved what I could in the front yard, I headed to the back yard. I picked up the patio items, pulled the branches off my upside-down table, and pulled it back up to the patio. Then I just started grabbing branches. Luckily, my neighbors’ boyfriend was around and held open my garage door so I could pull the car out. That way I could charge my phone, get some air conditioning, or leave if I needed to.
First Night After the Derecho
You could hear a couple of people getting their generators turned on in the evening. The next day we found out that it might be two weeks until we would get power. On my phone, I was still getting service. I could call and text (although some texts had difficulties going through), and sometimes I could even get the local news live stream on Facebook. That night I remember spending about 2 hours trying to watch a 30-minute broadcast because it kept freezing on my phone. I was a lucky one though because the majority of others couldn’t even make calls or texts.
That first night there wasn’t a light on anywhere to be seen. Apparently, if I had stayed outside longer, I would have been able to see the Milky Way (which is a view I’ve always wanted to see). I did see the stars coming out, and they were brighter than I’d ever seen them from my driveway. Without air conditioning or any power, Wrigley and I crawled into bed. She had spent the majority of the day hiding under the desk in my office while I was outside working, and you could tell she was definitely shaken up about everything. Whenever I would close my eyes to try to fall asleep, I would hear that screeching of the wind during the derecho. It took forever to fall asleep that first night, and once I was asleep, I didn’t stay that way for long.
Second Day of Cleanup
I woke up around 5:30 the next morning, sent my mother a text so she knew I was ok, and then tried to fall back to sleep. The next time I tried to send a text, I couldn’t. I couldn’t make a phone call, send texts or anything else, so I had no way to check in with family. I started packing some things to head to my mothers. Before the signal crashed she had texted that she got power back. I figured we’d spend the night there until we got power back, and I was sure she was getting worried that she couldn’t get through to me. Suddenly I heard Cher from Clueless saying ‘Hello’ over and over again. That was my text message ringtone. I had service! I quickly called my mom, and it went through!
Since we had made contact, I stayed home longer to get more work done before heading down to her house. Honestly, all the work the next few days just blends together! One day my neighbors’ boyfriend saw me trying to clear things in my front yard and offered to saw the limbs. It was perfect timing because one of my girlfriends stopped by with her two boys to help! So, he sawed, and we pulled everything to the curb. It was great progress! I don’t own a chainsaw, it’s not something I ever thought I would need, so any work on my own was done with just my hands and feet. I’m also not very good at asking for help or relying on others to do things for me, so this situation was very difficult for me.
A Community Devastated by a Derecho
No matter where you went in town you would see people tarping houses, pulling trees out of houses, handing out water, helping their neighbors. All while wearing masks because we’re still in the middle of a stupid pandemic! The sounds of chainsaws and generators became the norm.
I visited a friend’s house to bring them some boxes. They had to pack up everything because a tree was now in their house. I remember taking one step inside the house and not being able to catch my breath. The first thing that hits you is the smell that comes with having a tree crash through your roof into your living room, throwing insulation everywhere, and then having lots of rainwater fill the house. The second thing that hits you is the heartbreak. Her house was destroyed. I didn’t know how she was even standing there. I felt that if that much devastation had happened at my house I would have been a wreck in a ball somewhere. But when it comes down to it, you’ve got to pull your big girl pants up and take care of putting your house and life back together.
There were apartment complexes where the people are sleeping in tents because the buildings are uninhabitable. Communities were stuck to fend for themselves as landlords who live out of town haven’t been around. It took about 5 days or so until an overnight shelter was established in Cedar Rapids. They had difficulties getting this because of the widespread damage caused by the derecho, power outages, and COVID.
At the point I’m writing this, we’re 2 weeks out from this derecho. It’s been 14 days since our lives, city and state have been changed forever. Early estimates say that 43% of this year’s corn and soybean harvest in Iowa have been destroyed. Fields completely flattened. That doesn’t count the large amounts of things that were stored from last year that have now been blown away because silos have been broken and even completely knocked over from the wind.
332 cell towers were damaged. Every square mile of Cedar Rapids was damaged, all 75. Approximately 55,000 homes or businesses, just in Cedar Rapids, have damage. Next door in Marion, 90-95% of their buildings have damage. In the Cedar Rapids School District, every school has damage. The students were set to start returning this week, and that has now been pushed, but a date hasn’t been set yet due to the amount of damage. They estimate that it will be 10’s of millions of dollars to repair them all.
Power Out Throughout the County
There were 595,000 households without power in Iowa after the derecho hit and 97% of Linn County was in that number. Electrical crews from as far as Nova Scotia came to help restore power. In 10 days, 3,000 power poles were replaced. That’s typically the amount of work done in 10 months! Luckily, my neighborhood got power back the Saturday after the storm. With the long power outages, those without generators had to trash everything in their fridges and freezers. Some people were able to fire up grills and start cooking things before they went bad. Many were not. To make that situation worse, trash pickup was behind schedule (as you would expect after something like this) so there were bags of rotting food on the street, in the warm sun, for days.
Since I had been so productive right before the storm and loaded (stuffed) my washing machine with laundry, without power I was unable to get that laundry out until Saturday (yes, it smelt horrible). With nearly everywhere without power in the beginning you had to drive out of town to find a gas station that was operating, and then the lines could be a couple of hours long. As places were opening up, many were unable to take credit cards, so you had to use cash. However, most people don’t keep cash on them, and ATMs in the area weren’t functioning.
Half of the tree cover here is now gone after the derecho. Looking at before and after photos showing the lack of trees now is heartbreaking. The city was using snowplows to push debris out of roadways. After a couple days of picking tree debris up, they already had over 27 thousand TONS! And that is just from the first pass through 12% of the town.
No One Really Knew About This Derecho
The kick in the pants after this was that it wasn’t being covered much outside of our area. National news didn’t seem to care about all of the devastations. Even when talking about the storm with my family or friends from outside of the area, just talking about it, or sending a couple of pictures, doesn’t do this derecho justice. My mother, who I mentioned lived about 30 minutes south of me and did get hit with it (just nowhere near as bad), couldn’t even believe how horrible it was. I had her wait until she was off work on Friday to come up when most of the roads were finally clear and some traffic lights were functioning. I had told her stories and sent her photos, but she was still surprised by just how horrible things were.
Clean up from this derecho is going to last a long time. I’m not talking a couple of weeks. I’m talking a couple of years. If you think of all of the buildings that need new roofs, walls, or garages, that will take a long time to get finished. Not to mention the ones that have to be completely demolished! What about those businesses? The ones that were already suffering from COVID, and now had to be closed again. Maybe they’re lucky and only had to close for 2 or 3 days because of loss of power.
Then there are those who were already unemployed for months due to the pandemic, struggling to make ends meet. Now on top of figuring out how they’re going to put food on their tables, they might be having to figure out how to remove a downed tree from the yard, repair a house, or even find another place to live. I think we can all agree, we’re over 2020!
#IowaNice and #IowaStrong are definitely things, and they’re coming out these days. We are banding together to help one another. Serving food to families while we may still have damage at our own homes. Local lineman doing the same, working hard to help us get power back, while that means they’re unable to help with the cleanup efforts at their house.
Workers that have come from out of town have been sharing their stories about how great it has been to be here to help this community. That it has been the most grateful and supportive community they’ve worked in. Those stories make me so proud to be a part of this commUNITY! Some people say that the reason we didn’t get national attention was because we rolled up our sleeves right away and got to work. We didn’t sit around waiting to be rescued or loot damaged homes and businesses, we just started doing what needed to be done!
Now, as the word is getting out about this disaster, assistance is coming in from outside of the area, which will not only help financially but allow the people in this community a chance to breathe. A chance to start processing after this devastating derecho.
Pray for Iowa After This Derecho
We won’t be going back to normal (whatever that is) any time soon, and the majority of people will have more than just property damage to deal with. Emotional and mental issues will definitely be present in our recovery process. Personally, I’m dealing with some PTSD and survivors’ guilt (as far as damage goes, I was truly blessed and protected), and I’m far from the only one! Saturday, nearly two weeks after the derecho, we had some rain come through. Sitting on my couch and seeing lightning flashes and hearing thunder made my heart skip a beat.
I know there are lots of devastating circumstances around our world at this time, so hearing about a storm in Iowa might not seem like a big deal. But it truly is a big deal! So pray for Iowa. Pray for those affected by this derecho, for those who are struggling to patch their lives back together, and for those who are putting their lives on hold to help others. And, if you can, consider donating.
For so many more photos or videos, just search #iowaderecho, or check out my highlighted story on Instagram.