IOWA DERECHO 2020

Cedar Rapids works to repair hundreds of properties damaged in derecho

Building Services department has issued more than 3,000 permits to fix damage

A house on Grant Wood Drive SE, seen Aug. 14, is marked with a placard from the Cedar Rapids Fire Department warning peo
A house on Grant Wood Drive SE, seen Aug. 14, is marked with a placard from the Cedar Rapids Fire Department warning people not to enter without authorization after it sustained structural damage in the Aug. 10 derecho. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the fire department placarded more than 1,000 housing units as too damaged to occupy. Almost two months later, 28 properties have been deemed destroyed and 137 remain placarded. (Marissa Payne/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Nearly two months since the Aug. 10 derecho’s hurricane-force winds devastated Cedar Rapids, residents and city staff continue to work on repairing residential and commercial buildings across the city.

After the storm swept through Iowa with roughly 140 mph wind gusts, city crews assessed damage to thousands of Cedar Rapids properties. Firefighters did an initial sweep of the city to determine whether roofs, ceilings, walls or floors were in danger of collapse and posed a significant risk to those living there.

The Cedar Rapids Fire Department placarded about 1,089 housing units as too damaged to occupy within four days of the storm. Hundreds more had sustained minor non-structural or cosmetic damage, though people still were able to live in those homes.

While thousands of residents remained without power as they set out to fix their damaged homes or seek shelter elsewhere, Cedar Rapids crews braced for the lengthy recovery ahead.

What’s happened since

Now that residents have had some time to communicate with their insurance companies for major damage or do minor home repairs on their own, the number of placarded homes has fallen because they no longer pose a hazard.

Building Services Director Kevin Ciabatti said this change was expected, and structures have been checked a few times since the initial assessment.

The city reports there now are 28 properties destroyed and 137 that remain placarded.

There are 1,119 properties with cosmetic damage, 1,336 properties with minor damage to some non-structural components and 930 properties with major damage to a significant portion of non-structural components such as the roof or walls.

City staff have done damage assessments virtually using a mobile application, he said, allowing for those in the field to capture real-time data to report to county, state and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.

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Emergency managers across the state use this collector application, Ciabatti said, which helps generate an electronic record showing the full scale of damage.

The city also worked with a company to do a flyover of the city as another method to analyze damage virtually, he said.

When FEMA came to do its validation process, the information already was prepared in the city’s database.

Normally this process involves time in the field verifying the city’s assessments of the most damaged structures, Ciabatti said, but the data and images collected provided a sufficient snapshot for FEMA officials so that wasn’t necessary. Agency officials agreed with all but a small portion of the city’s determinations at first glance.

“All that information paid off in dividends for us, and it was all done by the conference room in the Incident Command Center,” Ciabatti said.

Now, the city is issuing permits at roughly double the rate of a typical month as residents make structural or electrical repairs to their properties.

In July, he said the city issued almost 1,200 permits. As of Sept. 29, the city had issued 3,362 permits for damage related to the storm.

“We recognize that there’s going to be a number of homeowners that have minor damage that are going to go ahead and do the work without a permit” for things like fixing some siding, Ciabatti said.

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It’s repairs such as redecking, reshingling the roof or rebuilding a structure that need permits, he said.

Building Services ultimately makes sure properties are code compliant and are built in a safe manner, he said, but may also field questions from residents to help them understand code requirements as they navigate the situation with their insurance companies.

“We don’t necessarily mediate between those two parties. We advise,” Ciabatti said. “ ... We do our best to be the advocate where possible.”

For information on verifying contractors, permit requirements or to request an inspection, visit www.cedar-rapids.org/homerepair

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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