IOWA DERECHO 2020

Coe, Kirkwood, Mount Mercy delay fall semester after historic Iowa derecho

'We will keep you posted when it's safe to return'

CEDAR RAPIDS — Having spent months planning and preparing for an as-normal-as-possible start to a pandemic-plagued school year, Coe College, Mount Mercy University and Kirkwood Community College have announced delays to the start of the fall semester in the wake of this week’s devastating derecho.

“Please continue to stay home until further notice,” Mount Mercy officials said in a social media message directed at employees. “You may work from home if possible, but we understand many of you are dealing with personal property damage and connectivity is still an issue.”

Promising to continue payroll for hourly and salaried employees despite power outages, Mount Mercy officials reported walking through every building to assess damage, unplugging electronics and pulling warmed food from refrigerators.

“We will keep you posted when it’s safe to return to campus.”

Mount Mercy was supposed to wrap its summer session Thursday, move in students both this week and next, and start the fall semester Aug. 26. But its summer session has been extended “indefinitely.”

Kirkwood Community College, which had planned to begin the fall semester Aug. 24, now will kick that to Aug. 31 “as a result of Monday’s devastating storm.”

“Like much of the region, main campus has no power and we do not know yet when it will be restored,” according to a Kirkwood alert.

Some Coe students settle into dorms despite no power, delayed start

Coe College, like Mount Mercy, on Wednesday stalled the fall semester indefinitely by offering one sure thing: “The start of classes will be delayed and will not begin on Wednesday, Aug. 19.”

“The start of classes will be announced when full power and internet access can be restored to all of campus,” according to a Coe message, urging students to stay away if possible. “Given the many challenges, if you have the ability to do so, we would encourage you to delay moving in until next week.”

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As most of the campus’ residential students were supposed to begin moving in Thursday through Saturday, Coe officials acknowledged some “cannot change their plans.”

“Rest assured, we are here to get you settled in your room and dining services is fully operating,” according to its message.

But taped onto doors of buildings across campus Thursday were signs reading: “No new info on power. Caf serving limited meals. Social distancing and masks. Unknown when cell service returns.”

That’s not quite the welcome back Coe junior Hailei Detwiler, 20, had imagined — even with the coronavirus pandemic forcing historic accommodations across U.S. colleges and universities this fall.

“It was destroyed,” Detwiler said of the campus, which she returned to from her home in Kansas just hours after the derecho blew through Monday. “It was so sad. We walked around all of it, and trees were falling on buildings. ... There’s windows knocked out. ... It was devastating honestly.”

Detwiler and her mother stayed that first night in a powerless and dark Comfort Suites — illuminating their room with only the flashlights from their dying cellphones. Although it wasn’t her official time, Detwiler began moving in to her on-campus apartment Tuesday — where two of her roommates already were living.

Still without power, Detwiler on Thursday officially checked in and got her keys — although her mother remains nervous about dropping off her daughter during a deadly pandemic and now natural disaster cleanup.

“This side still doesn’t have power,” Danica Thompson said, pointing to Detwiler’s apartment building. “That means she can’t cook, that most of the things here are still not open or powered.”

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Because Detwiler has a car and Coe’s cafeteria is running, Thompson said she feels more comfortable.

“If I had to leave her here without access to food, that might have bothered me a little more,” she said.

Most of the freshmen already on Coe’s campus are athletes — meaning many have built-in networks of friends. Those social substructures hold unprecedented significance right now for first-year students — many of whom are leaving home for the first time and being asked to socially distance and isolate, now without power, internet or cellular service.

“Some of the freshman I’ve been seeing have been doing a pretty good job,” said Coe sophomore Amber Williams, 20, of Alaska. “They’re hanging out in small circles. And they’re trying to find friends within their athletic groups.”

Williams arrived to campus Aug. 6 and promptly found two of her friends. And they’ve been hanging together during what has become a surprisingly quiet August on the usually bustling campus — except for the roaring chain saws ripping through endless aisles of downed trees.

“It’s lonely on campus,” Williams said, motioning to a pair of Coe sophomores. “They barely came. And these are my two friends that I have here. It’s worrisome that there’s not a lot of people here, but at the same time, it’s not the safest.”

Coe holding community cleanup on Friday

Coe College is holding a community cleanup from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday to help remove limbs and debris on campus.

Volunteers should park in the lots adjacent to the Clark Athletic Football Field between Marv Levy Way and 14th Street NE and check-in with organizers between Voorhees Hall and Gage Union. Face coverings are required.

If able, volunteers can bring yard equipment — rakes, shop brooms, loppers, leaf blowers, tarps and other hand tools — and put their name and address on their equipment.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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