IOWA DERECHO 2020

Shelters, charging stations in works in Cedar Rapids, Marion as power outages continue

Public buildings sustain some storm damage

City, school and county facilities in the Cedar Rapids metro area are dealing with damages from Monday’s storm.

Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Greg Smith said officials estimate 8 in 10 residential and commercial properties have sustained damage ranging in severity from minor to severe, sometimes rendering structures uninhabitable or completely collapsed.

The last 24 hours have been focused mostly on life safety, addressing natural gas leaks, building collapses and structure fires, Smith said.

Public works crews are working on clearing the major arterial roads first and the police department has been providing security throughout the city with increased patrols because of the power outages.

Firefighters are formally assessing their districts to rate structures based on the severity of damage and are placarding buildings if they’re unsafe to inhabit, Smith said. After that assessment, they will work with Linn County Emergency Management officials to aggregate data.

There is no cost estimate on the damage, he said, while city workers clean up the immediate tree debris and damage. Smith said it will take several weeks to clean the tree debris, not accounting for trees that fell on private properties.

Officials need to take a total inventory of all structure damage, he said, so it will be a while before there are cost estimates.

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Some of the structures have major water damage, trees on their roof, or a broken water line in their house from wind or from damage caused by falling trees.

City structures including the ImOn Ice Arena, 1100 Rockford Road SW, a portion of the Public Works facility, and Cedar Rapids parks and golf courses were damaged or have a significant number of downed trees, Smith said.

Some of the fire stations also sustained minor damage that he said has not impacted firefighters’ ability to respond to calls.

While city crews work to respond to the extensive damage, Smith urged Cedar Rapids residents to stay home and remain safe while power lines and trees remain down across the city.

Smith said he knew of about 50 injuries associated with the Monday storm, with the majority being relatively minor or moderate — some broken bones, cuts and scrapes. He did not know of any fatalities associated with the storm.

“I know people have a tendency to relax once the storm moves through and we all want to look at the storm damage and all that type of stuff, but we still do have dangerous situations out there,” he said.

Both Cedar Rapids and Marion have citywide curfews in effect from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and will continue until further notice, according to city news releases.

In Marion, high winds affected multiple city buildings. The Marion Public Library in Uptown Marion lost part of its roof and has some water damage, Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said.

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Across the street, City Park looked like a jungle as many trees had been blown over or ripped from the ground, covering sections of the park.

Pluckhahn said Public Service also lost part of its roof and the Marion Police Department had an issue with a wall and had some water get into the building. He said City Hall also had some water push in under the west doors, but seemed OK otherwise.

Linn-Mar and Marion Independent High Schools both experienced some damage as well with Linn-Mar experiencing some roof damage, Pluckhahn said. Some of the letters that spell “Marion” on the front of the Marion High School building were knocked off in the storm.

Across the county, there still is significant damage to traffic signals and signal poles in all cities. All intersections in Marion are operating as four-way stops.

Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said there is some damage to the Linn County Access Center, which is scheduled to open in October, and damage to the Fillmore Building, which was in the process of getting its roof replaced.

Linn County Communications Director Joi Alexander said staff are still assessing the entirety of damage to Linn County buildings and property. Alexander said Windstream, the county’s telephone provider, is experiencing a major outage, which is affecting external calls for the county.

Rogers said Linn County buildings are running off generation power which has sufficient supply and access to fuel to run them for several days without interruption.

Shelters and charging stations

Shelters and charging stations are in the works in Linn County for those without power or displaced from Monday’s storm.

Steve O’Konek, coordinator for the Linn County Emergency Management Agency, said charging stations as well as shelters are being worked on. As to damage extent estimates, he said it was “extensive and widespread.”

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The City of Marion announced in a news release a temporary shelter has been set up by the American Red Cross in the Thomas Park Safe Room. Marion residents in need of a place to stay are advised to visit with the Red Cross in person at Thomas Park.

Additionally, power strips are available outside of the Marion Police Department for anyone needing to charge phones or other devices.

In Cedar Rapids, Smith said there have been some discussions with county emergency management personnel and with the Red Cross to forecast potential needs, including charging stations and shelters, but there are no immediate plans for those resources.

The city still is working to identify the numbers of people who need assistance to communicate the need to those agencies, he said, but power outages and disruptions to internet and phone service have slowed communication.

The COVID-19 pandemic also poses a challenge with providing needed resources because of the need to avoid congregating in large groups, Smith said.

“In a typical disaster, it happens in one part of the city and you can shift to another part of the city” where there are secure buildings with power, he said. “Now, the entire city is without power.”

Cedar Rapids City Council member Dale Todd said city officials are having conversations about this safety net, especially for the populations with the highest need and those with already-limited resources, to make sure “everybody gets out of this in one piece.”

“We got kicked in the teeth pretty good,” Todd said. “This is going to set us back for quite some time. We’ll recover, but the landscape will certainly look different.”

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