IOWA DERECHO 2020

Sen. Chuck Grassley: Iowans 'doing what you'd expect Iowans to do' in response to derecho storm

Senator tours Cedar Rapids, heard from residents Saturday

Sen. Chuck Grassley walks along Blake Boulevard SE with staffer Jennifer Hein to view storm damage in Cedar Rapids on Sa
Sen. Chuck Grassley walks along Blake Boulevard SE with staffer Jennifer Hein to view storm damage in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It sounds incredible to say it, Cedar Rapids native Elizabeth Mitchell told U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley Saturday, but “the damage is more than meets the eye and there’s so much damage that meets the eye.”

Iowa’s senior senator agreed that damage from the derecho storm that shredded homes, businesses and crops across the state Monday was “more widespread than anything I’ve seen before” in comparison to floods, tornadoes and winter storms he’s witnessed in Iowa.

Grassley, who has spent the past three days surveying damage from Boone County to Linn County, took a walking tour of southeast Cedar Rapids to hear personal perspectives from residents who were without power for a sixth day.

Mitchell’s next-door neighbor, Kaitlin Byers, described the scene that met her eyes when she came out of her basement Monday as “total disbelief.”

However, Byers and her husband, Craig, count themselves among the lucky ones. A tree fell on their home, “but we think we’re still watertight,” he told Grassley. “Our house is still habitable.”

Not everyone was so lucky and now “we’re trying to figure out how to help others,” Kaitlin said,

“It’s amazing to see how the community is pulling together,” Mitchell added, describing neighbors helping each other, lending tools and equipment, trying to make the best of a bad situation.

To hear that, Grassley said, makes him proud of fellow Iowans.

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“Not just Cedar Rapids, but Iowans generally, are doing what you’d expect Iowans to do — neighbor helping neighbor,” he said. “Iowans are pulling together ... showing their resiliency.”

As resilient as Iowans may be, “we need help,” Kaitlin Byers said.

Help will be on the way as soon as a request for a presidential disaster declaration is approved, most likely Monday, Grassley said.

A presidential disaster proclamation will bring with it assistance for state and local governments as well as individual assistance for residents who have sustained damage from the storm.

If the Federal Emergency Management Agency runs out of disaster assistance funding before the end of the federal fiscal year Sept. 30, Grassley said the Iowa congressional delegation will support an additional appropriation.

“It’s generally very noncontroversial — or no controversy,” he said.

Also Saturday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that FEMA has approved Iowa’s application to participate in the Lost Wages Assistance program. The additional benefits were authorized by President Donald Trump Aug. 8 to provide support for Iowans whose unemployment is the result of the pandemic, and who are eligible for benefits of at least $100 per week.

They will qualify for an additional $300 weekly benefits retroactive to the week ending Aug. 1.

More information can be found at iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov.

In addition to government assistance, Grassley said, it will take time to recover from the derecho.

“There’s a lot of hurt,” he said during a news conference at the Cedar Rapids Central Fire Station. “And you know that we’re going to be making up for this, not in a matter of days or weeks, but probably months.”

People affected by Missouri River flooding in 2019 are still dealing with FEMA, he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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