IOWA DERECHO 2020

Cedar Rapids mayor says city must take stock of resources before National Guard will step in

Mayor Hart says IDOT, dozens of contractors coming in to remove debris once power lines cleared

Cedar Rapids Wayne Jerman (left) and Mayor Brad Hart confer with Maria Johnson, Communications Division Manager, and Gre
Cedar Rapids Wayne Jerman (left) and Mayor Brad Hart confer with Maria Johnson, Communications Division Manager, and Greg Buelow, public safety communications coordinator, in the Incident Command center in advance of a press conference at the Central Fire Station in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Mayor Brad Hart told The Gazette on Thursday that the city has asked for about 30 Iowa Department of Transportation trucks to come in to pick up the debris and is using more contractors to help out, totaling 80 to 100 trucks on Cedar Rapids streets “as soon as we clear the power lines.”

“A lot of these trees have power lines wrapped around them,” Hart said from inside the Incident Command Center at the Central Fire Station, a temporary space the city has activated to coordinate its response to an emergency. “That’s the priority right now. We have to clear the power lines so it’s safe to pick up the debris, and that’s been the priority.”

He said debris pickup is already happening, but not as quickly as it will happen once power goes back on in more parts of Cedar Rapids.

“We can unleash 80 or 100 trucks picking up debris. That will be remarkable,” Hart said. “Of course people want that done, but you know, I’m sorry, it’s not safe to do it yet.”

Hart and the city have drawn fire after comments he made in a Wednesday KCRG interview that the National Guard’s help may not be needed.

“We have to make that decision,” Hart told KCRG. “It wouldn’t be the National Guard coming in, it would be the resources they provide, but I think now with all the grappling trucks we have and the contractors we have lined up and other vehicles and equipment from the IDOT we may not need that help.”

The remarks angered some residents who have said they hope to see more resources from the city, state or federal level come in soon to help while widespread power outages remain for a third day.

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During a news conference on Thursday, Hart said he was specifically referring in the KCRG interview to the city not needing the National Guard’s help for tree removal, and that the city absolutely will be seeking assistance from the guard to help with other needs.

The city doesn’t have the authority to activate the guard itself. Before the guard can provide help, the city must provide to state officials a list of needed resources, which he and city staff are working on, he told The Gazette earlier Thursday. Charging stations, ice and door-to-door volunteers to check on residents would be helpful resources, he said.

The National Guard could help with debris removal, Hart said, adding that the city doesn’t need the guard’s help for policing. He also said the curfew was not implemented to prevent looting, for example, but to ensure the community stayed safe by keeping off impassable roads at night.

“I will call (Gov. Kim Reynolds) as soon as I have that list and say, ‘We need your help on this, this and this,’” Hart said.

Asked about Iowa 1st District Rep. Abby Finkenauer calling for a presidential disaster declaration for storm-affected Iowa on Twitter, Hart said he understands she has asked the governor to expedite calls for more aid and added that he “will ask her to expedite that, too.”

“It just adds some resources and it gives businesses and homeowners some ability to recover some of the losses,” Hart said.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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