116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
On Aug. 10 2020, with little warning, a land hurricane known as a derecho hit Cedar Rapids bringing wind speeds of up to 140 mph and causing widespread devastation throughout our community. The unprecedented straight-line windstorm damaged every corner of our 75 square mile city, and impacted every resident in some way.
- 6,000 homes or businesses were damaged, a few destroyed
- Most streets were impacted, with many impassable
- Power was out everywhere
- Cell towers were destroyed
- All 195 of our traffic signals were damaged
- Our police and fire departments responded to almost 10,000 calls for service that day and over the next two weeks
As soon as the storm ended here and we could go outside, we saw our beloved trees lying across lawns and streets, homes that were devastated, and neighborhoods that were unrecognizable. In the midst of an already difficult year because of COVID-19, Cedar Rapidians did what we know how to do — the thing we do best when times are tough — we worked together, helped our neighbors and began to recover.
As we continue to work toward recovery, it’s also vital that we prepare for the possibility of future emergencies
City crews, with the help of drivers and trucks from the Iowa Department of Transportation, immediately began clearing streets. People started moving trees from their yards, homes and streets, and helped their neighbors do the same. Before food spoiled with no electricity, people grilled it and shared it with their neighbors. People checked to be sure their neighbors were safe. They shared generators, refrigerators, showers and much more.
The city opened an overnight shelter in Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium. Neighborhood Resource Centers and food distribution sites were established throughout the city and Cedar Rapidians pulled up in their vehicles to donate water, paper supplies, food and other items. It was remarkable.
Our partner agencies — United Way of East Central Iowa, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Waypoint and many more — stepped up in big ways to serve this community.
City employees and community volunteers continue going door to door to help identify remaining obstacles residents are facing in derecho recovery and to refer them to available resources.
Volunteers are working with Matthew 25 on the PATCH program to help homeowners who were uninsured or underinsured repair their homes. The city is committed to help fund that effort so people can safely return to their homes.
Cedar Rapids lost 65 percent of our tree canopy — 669,000 trees. Regrowing our trees will take decades, but the city has made replanting and restoring our tree canopy a priority. Partnering with Trees Forever, ReLeaf Cedar Rapids will be a comprehensive plan to restore our tree canopy. In fact, replanting has already begun. Numerous organizations, businesses and residents have stepped up to lead replanting efforts and many more will do so throughout the course of this effort. Cedar Rapidians are already planting and “adopting” trees.
As we continue to work toward recovery, it’s also vital that we prepare for the possibility of future emergencies. The city has established a new communications effort called Neighborhood PACT (Prepare, Act, Communicate, Train) to help residents prepare for different types of emergencies that could occur, to develop emergency plans, to build emergency supply kits and to learn where they can go for help and information in case of an emergency. On Sept. 11, volunteers will be at a number of local Hy-Vee locations handing out information and talking to residents about this initiative. Emergency preparedness topics also will be presented at neighborhood association meetings and at other city events. You can learn more at cedar-rapids.org and by following the city on Facebook.
No response to a storm of the derecho’s magnitude could have been perfect, but I am proud of the incredible response of the city team, our partner organizations and the people of Cedar Rapids. There is more work to do, and we won’t stop until the work is finished.
While the storm was overwhelming and life-changing for many, it also reinforced the resilient, hardworking, and caring nature of the people of Cedar Rapids. Few communities would survive what we faced first in 2008 and now in 2020, but this community did. We have recovered and become stronger before and we are doing that once again.
Brad Hart is mayor of Cedar Rapids.