116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Kimmy Schmadeke has spent the past year trying to recover from the derecho.
On Aug. 10, winds exceeding 100 mph blew through Kirkwood Estates in southwest Cedar Rapids and shook her brown-and-white trailer, preventing her from leaving.
“I didn’t know what was happening because I don’t have a TV,” Schmadeke, 61, recalled. “My trailer started shaking really badly, and every time I tried to stand up it would knock me down.
“It wouldn’t stop, and it would go on and on. It was total hell.”
After the storm subsided, Schmadeke would discover that the storm knocked her trailer off three of its piers and blew off all the skirting and insulation under the trailer. It also badly damaged her roof, which would lead to water running down her interior walls each time it rained.
“I came outside and sat,” she said. “Everyone was walking up and down the street. Nobody checked on me. I just felt so alone.”
Since that storm, Schmadeke has been relentlessly pursuing individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help repair her home of 23 years while balancing her 65- to 70-hour-a-week work schedule as a cab driver.
“I can’t keep doing this. I’m a human being and they don’t see it. And I’m not alone. There’s other people going through the same situation.”
In late July, she was denied once again after filing her fourth appeal. The only thing she’s been offered — $1,200 in rental assistance.
“They just denied me,” she said. “Originally they denied me a week after the disaster hit because I didn’t show proof of home ownership”
Since then, Schmadeke said she’s done everything FEMA has told her to and provided estimates for everything she’s been asked for. For the most recent appeal, she also has been in contact with U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson’s office, where staffers said they would review her case.
“I can’t keep doing this,” she said. “I’m a human being and they don’t see it. And I’m not alone. There’s other people going through the same situation.”
Schmadeke isn’t the only person being denied individual assistance from FEMA. She’s just one of the few to keep trying.
In Iowa, 22,000 individuals applied for aid, with 19,000 getting denied, according to FEMA data. Out of the 19,000 denials, only a few hundred filed appeals.
According to FEMA, the agency has approved 3,084 households in Iowa with more than $11.2 million in individual assistance grants.
“Fortunately most Iowa homeowners, renters, business owners and farmers have insurance coverage for severe wind damage. Private insurance has paid more than $1.6 billion in claims as of November 2020,” the FEMA website reads.
But Schmadeke doesn’t have insurance, and the cost of her repairs are high. The bathroom needs to be replaced as the floor damage has caused her toilet to sink low. Estimates to replace her bathroom have tripled since last August, to around $14,000, Schmadeke said.
One night in April, Schmadeke’s foot fell through the floor while she was on her way to the bathroom. She fell on her knee, which she said she already needs surgery but she hasn’t been able to find the time or the money to do so.
“I laid there for 20 minutes or so and I just prayed,” she said. “I thought I was going to die because nobody would’ve come and checked on me. But somehow, I got up.”
In April, eight months after the derecho, Schmadeke finally got her roof fixed. Through the PATCH program and local nonprofit Matthew 25, a roofing crew came out and did the job in just a couple hours.
“I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I was when that roof was done,” she said. “They are remarkable people.”
For the eight months before the roof repair, Schmadeke would have to empty buckets each time it rained.
“I still need the floors replaced and the carpet after that,” she said. “But I just want the bathroom done so I can get my knee surgery done.
“I’ve also got to paint the porch, too, because the company is on me about that. I have to paint the trailer too.”
Schmadeke has been the subject of other national stories on derecho recovery and FEMA, but she said even after having a story published nationally she has never heard from city officials.
“No call from city councilors, no city manager, just the media,” she said. “Nobody called me. Nobody cared basically. They still don’t care.”
Schmadeke said she plans to appeal for a fifth time, but she also noted that she can’t do it alone. She said she hopes to get a lawyer to help her sort through her situation.
“I just live day by day,” she said. “Sometimes I get up and put on a fake smile. It makes me feel good to get out and drive my taxi.
“It’s like being a therapist. People are frustrated and lonely, too, and hearing others go through the same plight … it makes me want to keep trying, but today, I don’t want to do this again.
“Some days I’m doing just fine and others, it hits me when I’m going to use the restroom and I can’t use it,” she added.
“I have that fear when I go to the restroom that I’m going to fall through again. It’s just unsettling. In my mind, I can’t personally take doing this alone any longer.”
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