Ellis revisited: 12 years after flood, a derecho

Electricity has returned to most here, but not all

Dan Whitford and his son, Onix, stand Tuesday in front of a tepee they built on the lawn of their Ellis Boulevard NW hom
Dan Whitford and his son, Onix, stand Tuesday in front of a tepee they built on the lawn of their Ellis Boulevard NW home, using fallen branches caused by the Aug. 10 derecho. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Twelve years ago, I wrote a story for this newspaper about the effects of that year’s historic flood on residents of Ellis Boulevard NW.

Tuesday, I was back.

It was eight days after the city was struck by another epic natural disaster — the Aug. 10 hurricane-force derecho — rather than the Cedar River that runs nearby.

Most, but not all, along Ellis had their power back. Here are some sights and sounds from along Ellis, including stories of three residents of that street’s 900 block:

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“It’s just devastating,” said Dan Whitford, speaking for an entire city. “I had a tree trunk fall on my car and a tree fell on my truck. We had to take a jack not to the car itself, but to the tree that was on it. My wife was in the driver’s seat. When we got the tree jacked up and I said ‘Go!’ and she got out.

“The property insurance and car insurance won’t cover the damage to our vehicles. (But those who have comprehensive auto insurance policies may have coverage.) Because it’s an act of God or something. The insurance says if a tree falls on your car, it’s an act of God.

“I’m on work comp. I’ve been hurt for 10 months now. This makes it that much harder for us because I can’t work and my wife drove for Uber and now our car can’t even ... we can’t even work.

“My wife has asthma and she needs to use breathing equipment. We have no electricity, we have no generator. We’re in survival mode at this point.

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“I lived at my dad’s on 11th Street (NW) during the flood. I lost all my childhood, everything you want to save. The flood actually came up to his house and stopped because it’s at the start of a hill, but it flooded the basement and first floor. My room happened to be in the basement, so it got demolished. All those girlfriend letters, all that sentimental stuff, was all gone.”

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Jessica Gimse was across the street from her home on Ellis, helping the Whitfords.

“It’s been a huge community effort,” she said. “At a gas station, this lady handed us water, chips and a sandwich. These other people handed us water, chips and a bag lunch. Then these other people came by, three cars long, knocking on peoples’ doors. They gave out applesauce, a sandwich, a cookie and a drink.

“It’s just been the kindest thing I’ve seen coming out of people. It’s heartwarming.

“I haven’t had any data or cell service for over a week. There’s a trampoline in my backyard that I’m slowly but surely taking apart. It’s from at least four houses down. It took out my gutter and one of my windows.”

When I told Gimse I normally write about sports for The Gazette, she said, “This is a sport! There’s lifting.”

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In 2008, a washer and dryer were set out on an Ellis curb, ruined by the flood. Tuesday, just a short distance from that spot, a refrigerator was on a curb, wrecked by the derecho.

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Juma Nakashenyi’s family of seven is sweating it out at their home on Ellis. No electricity in Iowa in August makes for a warm house.

“To cook is hard,” he said. “Everything is hard at this time. We’re using candles, but it’s not enough. It’s so dark inside. We go to bed late. We stay outside maybe until midnight because it’s not as warm outside. I’m charging my phone in the car.”

But his eldest child, 18-year-old son Ali, no longer has a car. A fallen tree destroyed it.

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“We have roof damage, but the house is OK,” Nakashenyi said. “The water’s good.”

He and his wife fled the Democratic Republic of Congo for a refugee camp in Zambia, then moved to Durham, N.C., then to Cedar Rapids.

“It’s a good place to live, a quiet place,” Nakashenyi said. “Not many problems. Life is better.”

But he wasn’t whistling happy tunes Tuesday.

“It’s hot inside,” he said.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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