IOWA DERECHO 2020

Houses of worship 'destroyed but not devastated' in derecho storm

Storm that swept through Iowa a consequence of climate change, Hindu Temple leader says

Sekhar Mahadevan carries a cutup tree section as cleanup continues Saturday at the Eastern Iowa Hindu Temple, 1700 Naoma
Sekhar Mahadevan carries a cutup tree section as cleanup continues Saturday at the Eastern Iowa Hindu Temple, 1700 Naoma Dr. SW in Cedar Rapids According to Krishna Iyer, the temple sustained damage to a corner of the roof and also had water damage during the derecho. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — River of Life Associate Pastor Marcus Bratsch felt the church building tremble as the roof was torn from the sanctuary during the derecho storm last week.

Bratsch, along with a church elder, a mail carrier and a couple of people who were taking a walk past the church when the storm hit and sought refuge, could hear the roof being ripped from a portion of the building at 3801 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE in Cedar Rapids as they quickly moved to shelter.

“I have never been through anything like that in my life,” Bratsch recalled. “The church isn’t about a building, it’s about God’s people. We can take comfort through that. There is pain there, too. My wife and I got married” in that sanctuary.

A few blocks down, First Assembly of God Church, 3233 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE, experienced similar damage. Two-thirds of the roof was ripped off the building, and water poured into the sanctuary.

The Aug. 10 storm caused $2.5 million in damage, First Assembly Pastor Brian Pingel said.

River of Life and First Assembly have been meeting during the coronavirus since May, suggesting people wear masks, social distance and using plenty of hand sanitizer.

With both their sanctuaries destroyed, the congregations combined services Sunday, meeting under a tent in the First Assembly parking lot.

Pingel said that while the church building is a “war zone,” he wants to make sure the congregation takes care of families and neighbors first.

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River of Life Pastor Steve Irwin said River of Life is “destroyed, but not devastated.” He expects it to be months before the building is rebuilt.

“We’re going to end up with a new sanctuary, which was unexpected and certainly our problems are nothing compared to the people around us,” Irwin said. “My son and I were on 11 roofs (Wednesday), and people don’t know where to turn.

“Our problems at River are nothing. I feel the pain of the city. It’s pretty vast.”

Consequence of climate change?

The Hindu Temple of Eastern Iowa, 1700 Naoma Dr. SW in Cedar Rapids, which is spiritual home to 600 families, also was severely damaged in the storm.

The Hindu Temple of Eastern Iowa is one of only two Hindu temples in Iowa. The other, the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Iowa, is in Madrid, north of Des Moines.

A large tree was blown onto the temple’s roof, causing major structural and water damage, said Krishna Iyer, former chair of the Hindu Temple Association of Eastern Iowa.

The temple has been holding services online since the start of the pandemic in March. In August, officials had planned to start hosting groups of 10 for services, Iyer said.

“We were going to start the temple this month, but the storms hit. Now it’s closed indefinitely. We can’t even do the Zoom” conferencing.

Temple leaders had planned to break ground this year on a new temple, at 1600 W. Main St. in Robins, but that was put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Iyer believes the derecho was a consequence of climate change.

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“It is our fault,” Iyer said. “This is climate change. I think long-term, we have to make some changes.”

‘We can replant a tree’

Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, 2999 First Ave. SW, also has been devastated by the storm, officials said.

“Neighbors are helping neighbors,” a representative of the Center said. “Nobody is hurt. That’s the main thing. We can always replant a tree and paint a building.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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