IOWA DERECHO 2020

Cedar Rapids mobile home residents feel 'abandoned' after derecho storm

'I don't feel like we have anybody advocating for us'

Carmen Baker of Cedar Rapids stands in front of her trailer as her mom, Karen Quinnell, extinguishes a cigarette on the
Carmen Baker of Cedar Rapids stands in front of her trailer as her mom, Karen Quinnell, extinguishes a cigarette on the front steps at Edgewood Forest mobile home park in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. Baker’s trailer was rendered uninhabitable by the Aug. 10 derecho storm. Storm winds and fallen tree limbs exposed her roof allowing water in causing extensive internal damage. She and her mom have been staying with Baker’s boyfriend, who has a trailer next door to theirs but Baker now worries that repair costs may exceed the value of the 1971 two-bedroom trailer she is renting to own. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Two cats are now the only residents in Carmen Baker’s trailer home on the northwest side of town after the derecho storm’s ferocious winds brought a tree down on her roof.

The ceiling over her bedroom and its support beam are cracked, Baker, 46, said on Thursday. The insulation is saturated with water, and she said the rain that seeped in during the storm is stinking up her room.

She can’t live in her damaged mobile home, which still has a tree resting precariously on the roof, so Baker and her mother have temporarily moved into her boyfriend’s trailer next door.

Baker hopes to repair the damage on her uninsured trailer — she doesn’t know where else to go.

“With as many people that have been displaced right now, there’s not a whole big market for finding a new place,” Baker said.

She and other residents of Edgewood Forest Mobile Home Park remain without power 10 days after the derecho swept across Iowa with the force of a hurricane Aug. 10. And they say help has only begun to trickle in recently, having left them to fend for themselves in the meantime.

The lights have gone on in surrounding neighborhoods, but the trailer park still is dark come nighttime.

“It’s like we’ve just been abandoned,” Baker said.

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Her neighbor Twila Arntz, 53, said she has survived floods before, but the terror she felt as she sat on her couch that pulsated against the wall as the stormy winds howled outside struck deeper than anything she’s ever experienced.

And despite the severity of the damage, she feels that help has been slow to arrive compared with past disasters such as the 2008 flood.

“I don’t feel like we have anybody advocating for us and saying, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on in their community,’” Arntz said. “I’d like to go stand on the tallest building here in Cedar Rapids and scream at the top of my lungs, ‘Come help us. We need help.’ You name it, we need it.”

At the moment she said that, a Red Cross volunteer approached to ask what Arntz needed, and Arntz responded that there’s no shortage of needs among the park’s residents — electricity, generators, ice.

To replace her spoiled food, Arntz said food stamps only will give her $50 and another $25 per person. She lives with her 18-year-old daughter.

“That ain’t going to replace what I’ve lost,” Arntz said.

Kayla Paulson, a volunteer engagement senior coordinator of the 55+ Initiative and Service Enterprise with United Way of East Central Iowa, said the organization has sent local and national groups to mobile homes and low-income apartment complexes that “really need some help and love.”

United Way asked a MidAmerican Energy team to stop by Edgewood Forest, and Paulson said the crew identified a need for a larger national crew to come in with equipment such as a crane or scaffolding to help clean up.

In all, MidAmerican staff visited six mobile home parks in Linn County Wednesday, Paulson said, with pruners and other supplies to assist with the recovery efforts.

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Steve O’Konek, Linn County Emergency Management director, said emergency management officials have checked in on the Edgewood Forest residents to offer assistance, but people still can dial 2-1-1 to report their needs and find resources.

“We’re still trying to get people the help they need, and our work toward assessing the need is not going to stop,” O’Konek said. “We’re going to try and assess that need and give people the resources they need when we see it, and sometimes we don’t know it, sometimes we do, so we’re working hard to make sure we’re closing the gap and checking in with everybody.”

‘Testing us’

Still, residents say they’re banding together just to scrape by.

Toward the front of the trailer park at Johnson Avenue NW, Nikki Clark, 38, said she was lucky that her trailer sustained minimal damage. A tree crushed the trailer behind her when the storm walloped Cedar Rapids “like a Hulk smash.”

Clark lost her job at the Hampton Inn in March when the coronavirus pandemic forced business closures. But she’s made ends meet with her tax refund and unemployment money as companies have slowed their hiring.

“2020’s testing us this year all around,” Clark said.

She lives with Keon Cannon, 44, and said they’ve been able to help their neighbors who were worse off after the storm. The two of them have all the skills they need to survive, she said.

“It’s like I’m the housewife,” Cannon said as he dragged a laundry basket out from his black Chevy Tahoe and plopped it on the grass outside their trailer.

Their clothes became mildewed because of the rain that leaked inside after the storm.

They can’t depend on anyone but themselves, Cannon said, because “we broke, but we ain’t broke enough” for food stamps. They’ve grilled food and, now that the power is back on at some area businesses, they’ve been “spending too much money” on fast food while they still lack electricity.

“We all got it bad, but it’s life,” Cannon said. “... We can’t expect nobody else to help us, so we’ve got to help ourselves.”

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

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