IOWA DERECHO 2020

Uptown Marion transformed into disaster recovery center

Marion Command Center has been operating out of City Hall council chambers, temporary food pantry set up in Marion Square Plaza.

Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly speaks with business recovery liaison Nick Glew before a meeting of the disaster team at th
Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly speaks with business recovery liaison Nick Glew before a meeting of the disaster team at the Marion Command Center at Marion City Hall in Marion, Iowa, on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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In the past week, Uptown Marion has transformed into a disaster recovery hub.

A command center has been operating out of the council chambers in Marion’s City Hall since last weekend, when the building got power back.

Across the street, there’s a food pantry in former business spaces within the Marion Square Plaza.

Within both operations, every individual was masked and taking phone calls, sending emails or handing out food and other supplies to residents.

City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said the only location at first with a self-contained generator after the derecho storm hit on Aug. 10 was the police station. So that’s where the command center was set up.

“Those first couple of days were built around getting roads open,” Pluckhahn recalled.

Now, city staff has various roles to tackle.

For example, Pluckhahn and Fire Chief Deb Krebill are the incident commanders, library director Hollie Trenary is the logistics section chief and Marion Chamber director Jill Ackerman is the resource lead for the food pantry.

The team meets in the mornings and afternoons each day. The afternoon meeting is to discuss the action plan for the following 24 hours.

The city has these objectives:

• Provide for the safety, health and security of the public and first responders

• Maintain and adhere to COVID-19 protocols and policies

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• Identify and placard severely damaged structures that pose immediate danger to life and health

• Restore access to utilities and other vital infrastructure in coordination with utility providers to restore services

• Conduct street debris removal operations

• Investigate the possible co-location of other human need resources with the food pantry

• Deliberate the acquisition of mental health assistance and the locations for the services to be provided to the community.

Pluckhahn said the city plans on being set up this way for at least another week and possibly beyond.

“It’s helpful to have everyone working in the same room,” Mayor Nick AbouAssaly said about the command center.

“To have the best coordination of efforts and avoid duplication of functions so that the immediate issues are being addressed quickly and effectively.”

Across the street at the Churches of Marion temporary food pantry, organization and enthusiasm was key, too.

“The food pantry has been amazing,” AbouAssaly said. “We’ve had people come from all over the region, not just Marion. Whatever anyone needs, we’re giving to them.”

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One room had stacks of food and drinks, another had a surplus of baby supplies — diapers, formula and wipes. Another section had supplies such as tarps and batteries.

“We have a complete baby store here now,” AbouAssaly joked.

People looking for food or supplies can take what they need, and the pantry is accepting supplies each day. Supply boxes are assembled and given out from 1 to 3 p.m.

The usual location for the food pantry had its own debris to clean up, and a bigger location was needed after the disaster.

So the city called the owner of the currently unused spaces at the plaza and it was approved quickly.

Tami Schlamp, the director of member services at the Marion Chamber, said they’ve gone through more than 2,000 boxes since the storm.

Cari Redondo, a Churches of Marion food pantry volunteer, said the pantry typically serves about 100 households per week. Since opening the temporary location after the storm, it has served over 1,000 households, which can range from one person to 10 people as many have taken in friends and family displaced by the storm.

“We’ve had incredible volunteers each day,” she said. “It’s been heartwarming. We’ve turned food over eight to 10 times.

“We hand it all out and we’ve gotten more to come.”

Throughout the recovery, large donations have rolled in. A former Marion resident now living in Georgia came with trucks of supplies, Alliant Energy dropped off 1,000 sandwiches, a team from the USS Iowa delivered various items, and more keeps coming.

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Mayor AbouAssaly has been spending a lot of time at the pantry since the derecho hit. His daughter, Grace, also has been volunteering there.

Last weekend, teams of volunteers loaded up boxes and drove through hard-hit areas from the storm.

“Every day, the numbers of items we’ve received and the number of people that have come has increased,” AbouAssaly said. “We had teams of people canvassing neighborhoods after the storm, asking people’s needs.”

During a city news conference a week ago, AbouAssaly deemed the derecho Marion’s largest natural disaster. Since the storm, he’s been heavily involved with the volunteer efforts and directly answering resident’s questions on social media and in person at the pantry.

“People are so vulnerable,” he last week at a news conference. “You just want to do everything you can to help them.”

Comments: (319) 398-8255; gage.miskimen@thegazette.com

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