Cedar Rapids firefighters deem over 1,000 buildings 'unsafe to occupy' after derecho

Residential structures sustained major damage in Monday's storm

Robert Estabrook (left) fist bumps Phil Rogers after Estabrook along with other neighbors Jeremiah Hawkins and Patrick M
Robert Estabrook (left) fist bumps Phil Rogers after Estabrook along with other neighbors Jeremiah Hawkins and Patrick Marx worked Friday to remove a large tree that fell on top of the house Rogers lives in at Eighth Street SW and Eighth Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids. Using chainsaws, chains, cables, a winch and a pickup truck, Estabrook, Hawkins and Marx were able to remove the tree so the roof could be tarped in preparation for storms that are forecast. The home Rogers lives in has been placarded by the city. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Four days after a derecho tore across Iowa, devastating Cedar Rapids with destructive winds, power lines swung Friday across a road on the southeast side, lying low like vines in a forest of fallen trees.

Chainsaws revved up distantly in backyards as residents chipped away at fallen trees. A generator whirred, providing power to a house on Memorial Drive SE nearly 100 hours after the storm struck. Around the corner on Buchanan Drive SE, the sun beat down on spoiled food mixed with crushed, empty beverage cans, creating a vague stench as liquid seeped onto the pavement.

On Grant Wood Drive SE, broken tree branches lined the street leading up to a house near the end of a cul-de-sac, marked with an orange sign: “Do Not Enter.”

It was just one of the approximately 1,089 housing units the Cedar Rapids Fire Department has placarded as too damaged to occupy.

“Written permission is required from the Code Official prior to entry for any purpose, such as demolition, repair, salvage or use,” the notice said. “Any unauthorized person known to have removed or defaced this notice, or occupy this structure, will be prosecuted as provided by law.”

Fire Chief Greg Smith said firefighters did an initial sweep of the city to determine whether roofs, ceilings, walls or floors were in danger of collapse and posed a significant risk to those living there, especially if a fire breaks out.

Another 320 properties have sustained minor non-structural damage and 217 had cosmetic damage, said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow, though people can still live in those homes.


“If your home has been placarded, we strongly advise you to sleep somewhere else until repairs can be made or additional assessments can take place on that structure,” Smith said.

A certified housing inspector eventually will assess the structural integrity of each property that received an initial placard, Smith said.

He advised that residents who need to repair their homes verify that their contractor carries insurance on the company; get quotes on the cost of repairs in writing before work begins; and pay only when the work is complete.

Permits are not required for tree removal or trimming, Smith said, but the city does require permits for roof or structural repairs, or substantial interior repairs. The contractor is responsible for obtaining permission from the Building Services Department.

In the meantime, Smith said those seeking shelter can contact the United Way or other social service agencies, as it might take weeks to secure some homes.

“Some of these are going to be completely destroyed,” Smith said. “Some of them are going to take a little bit of work, so just working with a reputable contractor to get back to those living conditions.”

The Red Cross has opened an overnight shelter at the Palo Community Center, 2800 Hollenbeck Road.

There also are day shelter locations at the Anderson Public Library, Coggon Old Fire Station, Hiawatha and Robins community centers, Springville City Hall and Veritas Church in Cedar Rapids, said United Way of East Central Iowa President and Chief Executive Officer Kristin Roberts.

Volunteer assistance is part of the help becoming available to Cedar Rapids residents.

City officials learned Thursday that Gov. Kim Reynolds had deployed the National Guard.


Some residents have grown frustrated at the pace of getting much-needed resources like food, water and ice heading into the fifth day of storm response.

City Council member Tyler Olson said Cedar Rapids needs a major presidential disaster declaration, adding it was clear to city officials earlier in the week that the city alone didn’t have the capacity to meet everyone’s needs.

“We share the hurt, the heartache, the frustration and, frankly, the anger that many citizens have expressed to us as we’ve walked through our devastated neighborhoods,” Olson said. “We share your anger that our community calls for help have taken too long to be heard.”

Council member Dale Todd told The Gazette progress will continue as time passes to revive power, restore phone connection and return things to some semblance of normal.

“This is the stressful time when we are entering a new phase of the disaster,” Todd said. “People are losing patience, rumors are rampant and progress seems slow. We acknowledge that, but the plan is being executed and the critical infrastructure is being rebuilt. That is progress that is not visible, but it’s occurring as fast as humanly possible.”

Mayor Brad Hart said he is hopeful after Friday visits from Reynolds and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst that additional resources for businesses and homeowners will come.

“The city will continue to work really hard to advocate for our community, to bring all the resources to our community that we can,” he said.

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