116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Cedar Rapids couple Bob Chittick and Carmen Baker have found their way through a year of derecho repairs and challenges since the Aug. 10, 2020, storm devastated their homes. It’s been a year of work and worry, thankfulness and frustration.
» MORE IMAGES: View all derecho photo and video galleries
The couple of four years live in Edgewood Forest and own side-by-side mobile homes, both affected by the derecho. Carmen’s home was immediately rendered uninhabitable with roof and water damage throughout. Neither of their homes were eligible for homeowners insurance, meaning the couple were largely on their own to finance repairs
Gazette photographer Andy Abeyta visited with them throughout the year after the storm, documenting their life in images. This is their story:
A Dodge Dakota pickup truck owned by Bob Chittick’s son, Nathan Miller, was crushed by a fallen tree alongside Carmen Baker’s trailer at Edgewood Forest mobile home park in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 20, 2020.
After getting tarps in place and clearing enough debris to walk around both Carmen and Bob’s homes, they carefully removed the the tree from atop the truck without allowing it to roll and cause further damage to Carmen’s home. The truck wasn’t salvageable — it was sold for parts.
Carmen stands in front of her trailer as her mom, Karen Quinnell, extinguishes a cigarette on the front steps on Aug. 20, 2020.
Carmen and Bob’s families, like their neighbors, were left without power for a full month and were without internet or cable access for about two months. While volunteer help was available in many parts of town, a number of residents said they believed property managers on multiple occasions prevented crews from coming into the mobile home park to remove trees so utility workers could make repairs early on in the recovery.
Bob and Carmen sit in Bob’s living room late at night after finishing up a couple hours of work on Carmen’s place on Feb. 7, 2021.
Carmen and Karen moved in with Bob and his 12-year-old son, Creslin, after the storm. The plan was to get Carmen’s trailer fully repaired before addressing a new roof and other repairs on Bob’s home. Carmen’s mobile home was built in 1971 and Bob’s in 1969, meaning neither were eligible for homeowners insurance.
Bob flips through a folder of saved receipts from all the materials and tools he and Carmen have purchased so far while taking a break in his living room on Feb. 6, 2021.
Bob walks into the living room late into a night of repair work to take one more look at what further progress needs to be made reframing the ceiling of Carmen’s trailer on Feb. 7, 2021.
Karen gets ready for bed with a few pillows and blankets in her spot on Bob’s couch in his living room on Feb. 7, 2021. While her bedroom in Carmen’s trailer had been completed a few weeks earlier, the rest of the home was still not insulated. To stay warm, she would opt for the couch she had already been sleeping on since the day of the derecho up until late January.
In this Feb. 6, 2021, photo, Bob’s red Chevrolet pickup sits in the same parking spot where his son’s truck was crushed by a tree nearly six months earlier.
Carmen passes screws and tools to Bob as he works to repair framing to the ceiling of her bathroom late at night on Feb. 7, 2021.
Initially, Bob and Carmen looked for contractors to do the bulk of the work, but after a few contractors stood them up as winter drew near, they decided to do the work themselves. Bob, frequently with Carmen’s help, would put in at least an hour of work each night after working his second job as a dinner-shift cook at a local restaurant. With limited days off between both of their work schedules, progress — especially during winter — could be slow but never came to a halt.
Bob carries trim boards while he and Carmen make their weekly trip to Menards in Cedar Rapids on April 17, 2021.
Bob and Carmen both took out personal loans and received FEMA money to get started with tools and materials needed after the derecho, but they quickly found themselves paying out of pocket for their repairs after that money ran out in December 2020. It became a weekly ritual, usually on Fridays, to go to the bank and cash paychecks before heading to Menards.
With a shopping list in hand, they would buy whatever materials they could to keep them working for the week. With various materials being in short supply they occasionally would have to switch between projects in Carmen’s home while waiting for more materials to come back in stock.
Karen Quinnell sits on her bed in her newly finished room in Carmen’s trailer on Feb. 6, 2021. When Bob and Carmen began repairs on Carmen’s trailer, they first prioritized getting the bedroom finished and livable for Karen, who hadn’t had her own bed from the day of the derecho until late January, when the room was ready.
Carmen peeks out the side door of Bob’s home while he gets ready to move a salvaged staircase into place with help from volunteers on April 17, 2021.
Bob’s 12-year-old son, Creslin Chittick, laces up his shoes on the deck between his dad and Carmen’s trailers before taking a ride on his bike on April 17, 2021.
While Creslin would pitch in help by grabbing tools and materials for his dad when asked, he also spent his fair share of time while repairs were underway running and riding around the mobile home park with friends.
Bob crawls beneath the floor level of Carmen’s mobile home while working to reframe the damaged floor in one of the bedrooms with help from volunteer Bob Pleiness of Fairfax on May 1, 2021.
Pleiness met Chittick while they were helping a neighbor in the mobile home park who also had severe home damage. Pleiness, a retired tooling engineer, came by at least once a week for a day’s work during much of the project.
Arriving with his own set of tools, plenty of experience and a smile on his face each day, Pleiness was a major help in getting Carmen’s home back together and plans to continue helping with Bob’s home. A number of other volunteers, church groups and notably the local nonprofit Matthew 25 also contributed to the project.
Bob Chittick marks out a spare piece of 2-by-4 lumber while working on framing a bedroom in Carmen’s home on May 1, 2021.
Volunteer Bob Pleiness cuts down a trim board while refinishing a window in Carmen’s home while Creslin sits atop a ladder on the deck to watch him on April 17, 2021.
Creslin uses a hair dryer to dry a couch as his dad, Bob, sets up a propane heater to help the process along on June 27, 2021.
Lacking other means of storage, Carmen’s furniture had to be stored covered by tarps next to her home to keep them as safe as possible from the elements. A few items were lost to water damage, but the couch and accompanying recliner were saved with a bit of work from the propane heater and hair dryer.
Bob Chittick lifts one end of the couch as he and Carmen begin moving furniture back into her completed mobile home on June 27, 2021.
Carmen walks ahead of Bob to take a look at progress made after a day of work on her home on April 17, 2021.
Bob’s grandkids Oliver, 6, and Lily Layne, 3, play on a recliner moments after it is set down for the first time in Carmen’s newly repaired mobile home on June 27, 2021.
“Beat my goal of getting at least one of our homes done before the one-year anniversary,” Bob said. “Now it’s time to start my mobile home.”
Oliver and Lily Layne play in the back of grandpa Bob’s truck while the rest of the family works to move furniture into Carmen’s completed mobile home on June 27, 2021.