IOWA DERECHO 2020

Marion city leaders confident in the road to recovery

The majority of traffic signals have been fixed, curfew set to expire Monday morning.

Incident commander Marion Fire Chief Deb Krebill speaks during a meeting of the disaster team at the Marion Command Cent
Incident commander Marion Fire Chief Deb Krebill speaks during a meeting of the disaster team at the Marion Command Center at Marion City Hall in Marion, Iowa, on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Almost two weeks since Marion went through its “largest natural disaster ever experienced,” city leaders are feeling confident about the path to recovery.

The city held a news conference on Friday morning at City Square Park in Marion, in front of the damaged historic train depot. A section of the depot’s roof was still scattered along the pavement where a large, uprooted tree had smashed into it during the storm.

It was the city’s second news conference since the derecho storm that ravaged Eastern Iowa on Aug. 10.

“This task has seemed so overwhelming, but we’ve pulled together as a community and not let this disaster break us,” Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said. “One task at a time, darkness is turning into light and we are seeing a path to recovery … We’ve come a long way since 12 days ago.”

AbouAssaly said the city continues to work with the governor’s office to push for more assistance at the state and federal levels.

He said the many volunteers that have come out to help around the community with debris cleanup and at the food and supply distribution center have brought Marion together and closer to recovery.

“If you want to see who Marionites are, visit the distribution center,” AbouAssaly said.

City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said 98 percent of Marion’s roads are open and cleared of debris.

“The only ones that are still closed are ones with downed utility lines,” he said.

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Pluckhahn said the yard waste and food waste drop off sites will continue to be open throughout the weekend from 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

He also said that Southern Disaster Recovery, a company from South Carolina the city has contracted with, has had 16 trucks as of Friday morning picking up debris. By the end of the day Friday, 20 were expected to be in use.

“This will allow crews to run through every sector of Marion,” Pluckhahn said. “They’ve done more than 7,000 dump-truck loads so far.”

Joel Schmidt, vice president of business development at Alliant Energy said that while over 11,000 in Linn County were still without power Friday morning, 97 percent of customers had their power restored in Marion as of 6 a.m.

He said around 500 Marion homes and businesses were still without power on Friday.

“We will continue to help after our mission of power restoration is concluded,” Schmidt said.

Marion Police Chief Mike Kitsmiller said 60 percent of Marion’s traffic lights had been restored on Friday. He said the current goal is to have 90 percent of the signals restored on Sunday.

Additionally, Marion’s curfew, which is currently enforced from midnight- 6 a.m. will expire at 6 a.m. Monday morning, Kitsmiller said.

Marion police have had triple the amount of calls for service than normal. Kitsmiller said the department had responded to a month’s worth of calls in the first 10 days since the storm.

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Marion Fire Chief Deb Kebrill reminded residents to not burn any debris or stack debris around fire hydrants.

“We have not had rain since the storm,” she said. “We are in drought conditions. An ember can land on dry grass or other debris.”

Kebrill added that as residents continue to clean up their homes and yards, they need to continue to be careful.

“It has been a stressful time,” Kebrill said. “Warm temperatures coupled with hazardous conditions and fatigue can be dangerous. Please be aware of your surroundings. Don’t take on a job that may need a professional. Take breaks, drink water.”

She also stressed the importance for residents to remember that COVID-19 still is a threat as well.

“After a decline in hospitalizations, Linn County hospitals are back in the double digits for COVID numbers,” Kebrill said.

Just like the police department, the fire department has responded to more calls than normal.

“Call volume has been more over the last 12 days than we have ever experienced,” Kebrill said.

City leaders continue to meet throughout the day at the city’s command center, located in City Hall and will continue to do so in that format for at least another week, Pluckhahn said on Thursday.

AbouAssaly said the road to complete recovery for Marion may be long, but the city will recover nevertheless.

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“There are still uncertainties in the road ahead, but I have confidence,” he said. “We will recover and come out an even better community.”

Comments: (319) 398-8255; gage.miskimen@thegazette.com

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