CEDAR RAPIDS — It has been nearly a month since winds of more than 100 mph tore through Eastern Iowa destroying crops, uprooting trees, snapping power lines and shattering trees.
The city and contracted crews continue to work to clear the piles of debris left behind.
Over the past three weeks, cleanup crews have cleared nearly 100,000 tons of debris, energy workers have installed more than 3,400 power poles and over 400 miles of power lines, and emergency crews fielded thousands of calls.
Still, city officials estimate it could be months before cleanup efforts are complete.
Jen Winter, director of public works for Cedar Rapids, spoke to The Gazette last week about the cleanup progress and what lies ahead.
Q: Where are we right now in the cleanup effort?
A: Right now we are still working on the first pass of clearing all of the debris from all of the streets. After the storm, our very first effort was clearing the roads so they were passable and so emergency vehicles could get through, and that involved cutting up debris and bringing in equipment that could just push stuff out of the way, and it took us probably not quite a week to get the majority of that done. And now we are working on that first pass of clearing the debris — so trying to get through every neighborhood once to pick up the material that’s there. Right now we’ve completed a first pass in about 25 percent of our zones or routes.
Q: What happens after you’ve completed the first pass?
A: That’s one of the big questions people have been asking, is ‘Once you come through my neighborhood is that it?’ and it’s not. Our crews will make at least a few more passes through all the neighborhoods to clear additional debris.
Q: What sort of debris are crews collecting right now? Trees? Other materials?
A: We are doing both right now. The city has hired a contractor to help us pick up the non-tree storm debris — so roofing, fences, shingles those sorts of things — and they have started doing that. In a lot of these residential areas where we haven’t picked up the tree debris yet, there isn’t a lot of space to stack other debris. We’re starting that non-tree debris pickup in areas where we have already made a first pass to clear the tree debris or in the neighborhoods that didn’t have a lot of damage or didn’t have a lot of trees to begin with.
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Q: What sort of time frame are we looking at when it comes to completing the cleanup?
A: We don’t have an end date in mind yet — it’s still too early to tell — but I would guess we’re looking at months of debris removal. You know, it’s going to take us a little while. We’ve estimated that we’re looking at about another three weeks of work before we’re even able to really complete that first pass. And you know, where we are right now, we’re focusing primarily in the residential areas and on those public roadways and streets. But we still have trails and parks and golf courses that need to be cleared. So, there’s a lot that goes into clearing the entire city.
Q: What can the public do to help the cleanup effort?
A: There are a couple of things that residents can do — and we realized that in some areas some of these things may be harder to do — but for safety purposes, you know, we’ve asked residents to make sure that they’re keeping that material off fire hydrants and off their utility boxes. We don’t want these big debris-removal trucks with those big claws grabbing your utility boxes or your communications devices or anything else and pulling it up. In the event that we start to get more rain, trying to help us keep anything out of the storm sewer intakes — so you know, making sure that the area around that storm sewer intake is clear — so we don’t have water backing up into people’s yards and causing flooding or any additional challenges for the property owners. Also, making sure that you’re keeping all of that non-tree debris in a separate pile and a separate location from anything that’s tree debris, because all of the material that is not tree debris has to be taken to the landfill. And those who are unable to park their cars in a driveway or in a garage, or for those drivers who live on narrower residential streets, we’re asking they park as they would during a snow emergency — so parking on the odd numbered side of the street on odd days and on the even numbered side on even days. Also, we ask that residents be patient. We know this is frustrating and we know it is inconvenient, but we have hundreds of people out there working on the cleanup and the sheer volume of debris is really unimaginable. I mean I don’t think there was one block or one street in the entire city that didn’t sustain some damage, so there is a lot of to be done.
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