Guest Columnist

Voices from the storm

Cathy Hafsi stands on her front porch looking out at the damage in her front yard in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 13,
Cathy Hafsi stands on her front porch looking out at the damage in her front yard in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Hafsi has cerebral palsy and cares for a housemate who also has cerebral palsy. Both of them, especially Hafsi’s housemate, rely on power chairs, to get around and have struggled to keep them charged without power after Monday’s derecho storm ravaged Eastern Iowa. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Editor’s note: Three local writers submitted guest columns in the aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho. Here are excerpts from their columns.

Chad Clark — Waiting for help

Aug. 17

Little did we know that the real blow was yet to come. The destruction didn’t end with the storm.

We kept waiting for help. For the national guard and the Red Cross and a national outcry for unity and for help and support to go to the Midwest in their great hour of need. For someone to step forward and say, “Let us take you on our shoulders for now.”

We’re still waiting. Or at least, we’ve seen no sign of it anywhere. And while National Guard has been called to duty and utility crews still work around the clock, many in Cedar Rapids have raised cries for help, pleading for anyone to take notice.

And don’t get me wrong. There have been many examples of kindness and support within the community. Neighbors came out in droves with chain saws to clear the roads. Today a family was driving through our neighborhood offering cups of lemonade and another family giving out bottles of water to those laboring in what was left of their yards.

It isn’t like we were expecting the world to stop for us. We weren’t waiting for Oprah to show up giving everyone free cars. Life is hard for everyone right now and I understand that. Still, I can’t help but think about all the natural disasters I’ve seen where there are days of coverage of the event, charity concerts to raise money for those affected, celebrity chefs setting up free food trucks for the victims and responders.

For days, the common refrain I got from people out of the area was a variation of, “What? I had no idea ...” In a world with 24 hour digital media capable of picking up on the slightest of events, it was like we simply didn’t exist.

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There’s a term I’ve heard used jokingly in reference to the Midwest. Flyover states. Essentially the idea is that if you’re flying from one coast to the other, we’re the states you have to fly over in order to get there.

I’ve never felt that as acutely as I do now.

Chad Cooper: A city’s identity

Aug. 17

In the aftermath of the storm, without power, I found myself grasping in the dark (literally and figuratively) for answers, for hope, for my toothbrush. I’m even writing this in the dark as a note on my phone, going on my seventh day without power.

Life lived as a Cedar Rapidian has found me grasping in a similar way: for self, for identity, for how to define my love for a place I often also disdain for its seeming inability to stand out and represent something more.

About an hour after the storm passed, our neighborhood was out in force to assess damage and start the cleanup. An elderly woman who lives alone soon had a team of neighbors cutting branches from a downed tree in her yard and hauling it to the curb. A family from Africa that had moved in only a few months prior was the first to start to work. They were followed by a half dozen other people. Within two hours, to look at our backyards, you hardly would have known a disaster took place. This scene has repeated itself numerous times in neighborhoods across the city.

I can’t say the derecho has reconciled my feelings for my city, but it has strengthened my pride in its attributes: its resilience, its sufficiency, its aversion to self-pity. And perhaps the city has gained a distinctiveness from how it reacts in times of crisis. Cedar Rapids has come to embody human resilience ...

Let me tell you a story about yellowjackets. Yes, the flying (and stinging) insects. Yellowjackets have been harmonious neighbors on my back deck for years. They spend hours each day working at a feverish pace, hovering and collecting small amounts of the wood to construct their nest. It’s painstaking work that takes the entire summer to complete.

As I walked across my lawn after the storm, I noticed the yellowjackets’ nest was a casualty — destroyed by the onslaught of wind, flying debris, and fallen trees. Months of work destroyed in only a matter of minutes. The scattered remnants sat beside shingles and siding from nearby houses. I figured I’d seen the last of my yellowjackets for the year. But the next morning, under the brightness of a sunny day, I walked out back to see yellowjackets hard at work collecting wood to rebuild. The scene emblematic of a city that moves forward because moving forward is its second nature, its identity.

Olivia Schnur: Voices from the storm

Aug. 14

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Caught between Ames and Cedar Rapids with his parents on his way to college, Spencer Davis, 20 of Cedar Rapids recounts, “We had to take shelter under a bridge and at one point I thought the tires had started lifting off the ground as I watched debris whip by. This was the first time I actually thought I was going to die.” Spencer adds hope to his story, “It’s really refreshing to see the community power through something like this again with so much love, it reminds me of the cleanup effort we had after the 2008 flood.”

A Cedar Rapids resident, Scott Tesar, 35, adds, “I’m still at a loss for words. I will say that after seeing a whole community come together after such devastation it really gives a new meaning to ‘Iowa Nice’.” Echoing this statement is Dusty Swehla, 41, of Marion, “We are without power, houses destroyed, a chorus of generators and chain saws is all we hear [ ...] As a community, we will work together to rebuild Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas.”

A common thread among the voices of Cedar Rapids residents is plea for help. While they recognize the generous community support being offering by local heroes and businesses, they fear it is not enough. Without the assistance of political leaders and local government, the resources of the community will run dry. In the words of Spencer Davis, “I just wish it got more coverage in National headlines because most people don’t even know about this yet!”

Chad Clark and Chad Cooper live in Cedar Rapids and Olivia Schnur lives in Northeast Iowa. Her column first appeared in The Iowa Source.

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