How We Can Best Rebuild & Recover From Iowa’s Derecho

In flashback, it was a $1 billion disaster movie come to devastating, soul-piercing, heart-crushing life in the American Heartland. In the blink of an eye at 140 fierce mph, the homes, lives and worlds of thousands of Iowans were ripped apart on Black Monday.

One month after the vicious derecho that nearly ripped Cedar Rapids off the map, killed three people, blew down 10 million acres of the state’s corn and cut power to nearly 600,000 Iowans for days, the Hawkeye State is still picking up the pieces, clearing out the trees and taking the first painful steps toward rebuilding.

“It’s still unknown how many houses are inhabitable in Iowa following the derecho,” the Iowa Capital Dispatch’s Linh Ta writes.

For history states this devastating derecho, already being called “Iowa’s Katrina,” won’t be the last one any of us lives through. For derechos, the Washington Post’s Matthew Cappucci notes, are as common to Iowa as hurricanes are to Florida. August’s derecho packed the wind force of a Category 2 hurricane.

“The storm’s ferocity caught many Iowans off-guard, but the Hawkeye State is surprisingly vulnerable to these violet tempests,” Cappucci wrote in an August 19 Post feature on the derecho’s massive destruction. “While the storm’s intensity was on the high end of derechos, this wasn’t some freak event.

“Destructive derechos are as common in Iowa as hurricane strikes in Florida.”

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center’s research shows that winds of 74 mph or more are likely to occur with 25 miles of any given point in the state an average of once per year. The big difference between Iowa derechos and massive Florida hurricanes: Derechos, nicknamed “land hurricanes” by Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, arrive viciously out of the sky with almost no warning. In 1998, a wicked 123 mph derecho dropped out of the sky, causing $150 million damage in Des Moines and Iowa City and injuring 100 Iowans.

“(At) least once piece of Iowa will end up in a derecho every year,” Bill Gallus, an atmospheric scientist at Iowa State University, told the Post.

Derechos, The Art of Preparedness’ Justin Cummins writes, “haunt the Midwest.”

The New Challenge

The challenge now for Iowa homeowners still sawing the oak trees out of their roofs and picking up the pieces of the derecho’s wrath from their property is two-fold:

  • Recover & Rebuild From The Devastation
  • Be Ready For The Strong, Real Possibility of Another Derecho Strike on their House

As we know so painfully well, there are no sure-proof, guaranteed derecho protection methods homeowners can take as this wicked weather event currently arrives with little warning.

“Scientists say it’s difficult to give advance warning about a derecho, because, unlike a more distant hurricane forming over the ocean, its formation is not readily apparent,” The Associated Press’ David Pitt notes.

But by investing monthly in an emergency home repair fund, Iowa homeowners can have a recover and rebuild fund at the ready should derecho disaster strike again.

For Iowans needing financial assisting for their recovery plan, provides information, support and ways to access recovery services, including:

  • Applications for disaster assistance
  • Updates on disaster assistance application
  • Housing and food assistance

For many Iowans, debris recovery remains an issue. Although insurance can cover a lot of structural debris, “green debris” like fallen trees remains an issue in many hard-hit Cedar Rapids neighborhoods. The process of moving large piles of debris to the landfill may take six months, city officials warn.

“The debris streams and volume are high,” Dennis Harper, disaster recovery chief for Iowa Homeland Security, told the Dispatch.

Other sources of available financial assistance include:

  • The Iowa Association of Realtors and National Association of Realtors’ Disaster Grant Program offers rent and mortgage assistance for derecho victims. Up to $1,000 per applicant is available at
  • In Cedar Rapids, home repair permits are available by calling the city’s Building Services Department at 319-286-5831.

Uprooted Trees Lost Causes

The derecho sliced and diced up trees with three-foot diameter trunks as if they were samplings. State Senator Liz Mathis told Fox News the tree damage in Cedar Rapids is “unreal.” Unfortunately, there is no way to dependably save an uprooted tree. For trees with limited damage, have a certified arborist inspect them. Be sure to do your homework when deciding whether to remove a tree. The national average cost for tree removal and cleanup is $600, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reports.

“For canopy trees with minimal damage, at least 50 percent of the canopy foliage must be green and viable to provide nutrients for ongoing health,” Master Gardener Becky deNeui-Lynch wrote in The Gazette. “If a tree is solid, had no previous damage and has an extensive root system, the jagged limbs can be pruned and then left. You can evaluate the health of the tree after the dormancy of winter, checking it during spring budding.”

So many Iowa families have been through hell, but remember, we are Iowa tough. With grit, determination and a sound recovery and rebuild plan, you and your family will get through this.

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