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Derecho story, updates, and good news

Hey, All, I know you’re probably getting sick of me (sorry!) but I wanted to update y’all and remind everyone that some folks here are still struggling, due to the derecho. I also wanted to tell you what we experienced.

That morning was actually sunny and warm. We had something like a 50% chance of thunderstorms for the early afternoon but there was not a cloud in the sky or even a slight breeze. We truly had no warning or time to get ready for how bad this was going to be.

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I was texting with GT’s Edie and the last text I sent her said something like, “The tornado sirens just went off but there’s no wind or clouds??? Weird.” We chalked it up to a mistake by the city—clearly, nothing was headed our way. That was about 12:30.

Maybe 5 minutes later, clouds rolled in. Homey and I love a good rainstorm so we were like, Yes! Rain! Finally! as we hadn’t had much rain for the three weeks prior. The wind kicked up and we were like, We’ll be grownups and head into the basement, even though we love to watch a good storm. But it got dark-dark really quickly.

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There was no alert on our phones, which there usually is for very bad weather so we figured it couldn’t be too bad. My brother rode the thing out in his car; my friend works in a hardware store and they closed and locked the doors but they had a pregnant woman with a 4 yo pounding on the door to be let in. A poor cyclist was out on a country trail, enjoying the nice weather, and he was killed by a tree. There just was no sense that this was coming or that it would be as bad as it was. And apparently some areas in town didn’t even get the sirens.

Downstairs, I tried to access a forecast or see if there was a tornado watch or a tornado warning but our phone service was already down, as was the internet. Usually, even in a tornado warning, it passes quickly and the damage for most everyone is pretty minimal (though, of course, it’s terrible for those it hits directly.)

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By 12:40, it got bad. The wind just started screaming. We couldn’t even hear the rain anymore, just wind. This is not my video but it gives you an idea:

In our area, we got the worst of it, with winds over 140 mph. In that time, we heard something get ripped off of the top of our house (turned out to be siding), something get ripped off the front of our house (the awning over our front door, plus more siding), glass breaking (one of our windows), trees cracking, a huge, scary thunk (our grill being flipped over) and a giant smash (a big limb tore off our beautiful tree and smashed into our catio). The power went out about 5 minutes into the storm.

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This really bad part of the storm lasted 45 minutes, maybe an hour. It felt like forever. Like I said, with a tornado, it’s usually 15 minutes of bad wind. An hour with no news and no noise except for the wind was bad.

Once the wind died down, I went outside to check on our neighbors. A bunch of us were standing outside in the rain, just dazed, looking around. Everyone was ok, thank goodness, but it was like a maze of tree limbs on our street. We actually could not get off our street for awhile because both ends were blocked off by trees and tree limbs that had fallen. Two crews of neighbors who had chainsaws, thank goodness, worked all afternoon to clear the ends of the street. The street itself, though, remained a bit of a maze—for days we had to swerve around downed limbs to get home.

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Before the storm even ended, the first responders’ sirens started up. Probably by 1:30, all we could hear were the wind and the sirens. Those sirens didn’t stop at all Monday night and I mean at all; I feel asleep to sirens Mon. night and woke up to them early Tue. morning. We heard our first break in the sirens Tue. afternoon. But it was a short break. I’d say Wed. was the first time we heard a break in the sirens that lasted more than 10 minutes. I don’t know if y’all remember from this article, but it was such a mess of accidents, injuries, and fires in those first few days that, according to a city councilwoman, “We had firefighters that were jumping out of fire engines and jumping into people’s cars and triaging on the way in.” Police and firefighters were pulling people out of crushed houses and cars; news crews who went to report at bad scenes had to set down their equipment to rescue people, too.

We did not have reliable access to food, electricity, phones, or gas in our city for days. Grocery stores had power out but also tons of damage; gas stations were the same. By Th., we were able to get into a hardware store but there was water all over the floor and no lighting. They had a woman blocking the parking lot—we had to tell her what we wanted and, if it wasn’t emergency equipment related to the storm, no dice. We also had to get permission from a second employee to enter the store and they had an employee walk us back to what we needed and walk us up to the register. “No fun shopping” was the refrain.

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Homey and I are lucky! We have cars, so we could drive the hour out of town it took to get food and gas. About 45 minutes out of town and our phones worked again. We had water and, thanks to a gas water heater, warm water for the duration. We still know folks who’re having to get water from their neighbors to drink and flush their toilets.

There are also lots of people in town who don’t have cars, and because most of the city was still a damn mess, the public transportation didn’t run for a week. Some of these folks didn’t even have (still don’t have) roofs or walls.

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I wanted to update y’all on what’s going on with the rest of the city. Here goes:

Housing/Immigrant and Refugee populations: As you might expect, the derecho affected mostly poor folks who live in apartments and trailers. There are some homeowners who were displaced (unfortunately, our sweet neighbors across the street had a giant tree smash the back of their house in half; they’re staying with family for now), of course, but those folks also tend to have more resources.

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This is a map of the domiciles that have been deemed unsafe to occupy by the city; I say domiciles because, unfortunately, many, many of these are low income apartment buildings.
This is a map of the domiciles that have been deemed unsafe to occupy by the city; I say domiciles because, unfortunately, many, many of these are low income apartment buildings.
Graphic: KCRG

Particularly, immigrants and refugees were hit hardest; those folks are more likely to live in older, or more cheaply built, buildings; many don’t have a lot of financial resources and may lack local support networks. Many also face language/cultural barriers to accessing help (and some refugees don’t want to feel like they’re reliant on the help of others again, which makes total sense). I have heard of two landlords who simply left town as soon as the storm ended, completely abandoning their tenants.

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A number of local orgs. have started working together to get these folks resources and at least temporary housing. Housing is really tough right now because a lot of folks needs places but also a lot of places have been wrecked, so even if you can afford a place, there’s nowhere to go. And, again, COVID makes everything tougher—whereas, normally, lots of us would throw open our doors to strangers who need places, right now, no one wants to expose anyone, or be exposed, to COVID. And the shelters we do have are required to maintain social distancing, meaning they can house even fewer people than they normally could. School hasn’t even started for the colleges and universities here but some students are returning and we already have a spike in COVID cases.

The Catherine McAuley Center has long been a community resource for immigrants and refugees, offering housing, English language classes, support groups and a food/household supplies pantry. They have really done a lot to help those displaced by the derecho—they moved everything out of their center to create a new shelter for displaced folks, they’ve been going around to different parts of the community and cooking up food for folks, and making sure folks have basics like diapers, toilet paper, soap, etc.

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A really easy way to help them out is to go to their Amazon wishlist and ship them an item or two. Right now, especially, they’re looking for those basics but also school supplies for the kids. Or you can donate directly to them here:

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Power: Happily, most folks have their power back. Most. There are still a few hundred people without power two weeks out from the storm. This week is going to be terrible for those folks if they can’t get power or to a cooling station, as it’s going to be humid and 95+ through Sat. Can you imagine being without power for over two weeks? We were without for 10 days and I can’t. And, again, with COVID, it makes it really hard to just pop in and stay with a friend to cool off. One of my friends had to drive with her husband and two toddlers to stay with her parents for a few days and everyone, including the toddlers, had to wear masks for those three days.

This is a map of the reported outages as of this morning; these numbers represent the number of households with reported outages but, if you don’t have power and you don’t have internet, it’s difficult to report, right? I think 300 might be a bit optimistic.
This is a map of the reported outages as of this morning; these numbers represent the number of households with reported outages but, if you don’t have power and you don’t have internet, it’s difficult to report, right? I think 300 might be a bit optimistic.
Graphic: Alliant Energy
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Not to mention storing and preparing food. Most of these folks have been without working fridges/freezers for a couple of weeks, and many don’t have stoves they can use. Lots of folks had been stocking up, due to COVID, and for most people, much of that food is just gone now.

Food:

World Central Kitchen was here early but they left about 6 days ago.

Operation BBQ Relief left 3 days ago.

Mercy Chefs left 2 days ago.

The Salvation Army and Red Cross plan to pack up their food distribution as early as tonight, although they’ve extended that deadline twice already so I’m hopeful they do again.

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Again, our city is on its own. Some folks are pulling their grills to the end of their driveways, calling radio stations and having them announce “Go to x address, where Brian (or whoever) will be grilling hamburgers and hot dogs till he runs out.” There’s a sweet woman who immigrated here from Thailand who’s been making Thai food for folks—people love her food so much, they’re talking about getting a fundraiser going so she can open a restaurant.

Some restaurants are still feeding folks for free; one Chinese restaurant distributed 2000(!!!) free meals on Sunday. And, of course, our local hero Willie Fairley is still handing out around 5oo free meals a day (truly, bless that man!). If you want to help him out, he’s accepting donations via Venmo: WilleRaysQShack

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Local churches, high school football teams, etc. are also holding one off events to feed folks, as they can. So many people are out there volunteering, cleaning up, feeding other folks, even while their own homes are still without power or internet. And everything is still damaged.

Government response:

So, you might be asking, where’s the help from the government? My answer to that would be, man, you fucking tell me!

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Trump scheduled a 2 hour roundtable at our airport (didn’t even leave the airport!!), to which he only invited republican politicians. The areas most impacted by the derecho are BLUE, so that means he didn’t actually hear from much actual representation of the areas most impacted. I mean, not that he ever was going to care anyway—as if he could care. Oh, and? He showed up an hour late to his own two hour meeting. Fucking asshole.

Side note: I saw a bunch of dumb assholes on Twitter saying that this is what Iowa gets for going red during the last election. And, yeah, we did. But you know who we went for in 2012? Obama. And 2008? Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! You guessed it! OBAMA! Because we are a PURPLE state! Have been my entire life. So, if you see those people, if anyone, anywhere outside of Iowa is still talking about this at all anymore (ha!! people are still telling me they never even heard about this), please let them know that a) we are a PURPLE state, not a red one b) the areas most impacted by this derecho are BLUE but also? c) no one deserves this; people should care about people because they are people and not just because they agree with your political leanings. I’d fucking think a true progressive would already know/believe that. Oh! And people who are like, “You should care because of their crops.” FUUUUUUUUCK YOU! You should care because these are human lives we’re talking about. Fuck the price of your hamburger next year!!

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Anyway, Trump approved $45 million of the $4 BILLION of federal aid requested, so 11.25% of what we need. Thumbs up, dude. And that money is mostly going to repair government buildings. Super helpful. And, for a few days, he didn’t approve any FEMA assistance for individuals. He finally got around to that last Th. (a week and a half after the storm), so folks are now scrambling to see what that means for them, although most folks are already doing everything themselves.

The governor’s too busy falling all over Trump and focusing on crops, rather than people, to be here. It took her 4 days to make her way here (couldn’t possibly have missed that campaign event with Pence!), and she hasn’t been back since.

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Her TL is quite something...

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Some good news:

Listen, guys. Iowans are resilient. We are also community-minded and maybe naively optimistic. Or maybe it’s just, we’ve been through some shit (2008 flood, y’all! Tornadoes, ice storms, blizzards, the flood of ‘93... I could go on) and we know that we can piece stuff back together.

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Anyway, sadly, the first reliable resource in all this mess was a Facebook group started the day after the storm. Yeah. A Facebook group, started by a couple of civilians, has done more than any government agency. They have been so amazing and effective that they are now officially a charity! You can check them out (or donate! or boost this link!) here:

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I was scrolling through the posts on that page last night (folks offering food, ice, help cutting down and removing trees, etc., etc.) and came across these two gems and they are so true of what I’m seeing:

I love Iowans. You ask someone, “did you have storm damage?” And they respond with, “Not too bad, totally as not as bad as other people. It was pretty minimal actually. We only had a tree fall on our car and now it’s totaled and we can’t get to work, but we’re SO thankful for the bus. Our fences are gone and half of our roof blew off, so glad it wasn’t the whole roof. And three windows are broken. But no one got hurt, and we’re so thankful! We lost all our food, and probably $3,000 of food that was in our freezer, but we’re okay. How about you guys!?! What can I do for you?” Man, I love these people. #iowastrong

When scheduling the insurance visit, I told our guy to put us at the end of his list and he said, “I love you Iowans! You’re the third customer today to say that!”

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We are all just trying to help each other out because we care and we know this is down to us. I was talking to a friend yesterday and we share a favorite local coffee shop (Brewhemia! If you come here, get the Bohemian! But literally anything you order there will be great!) and he was in there the other day picking up his to go order. The staff was asking him how clean up was going and he was like, “Actually, not so great.” His elderly mama had eight trees down on her house and yard. And the Brewhemia crew were all like, “Hey, we could come over and help! We’ve got friends with chainsaws, we’d be happy to help.” My friend was like, “Oh, you guys are so sweet to offer but don’t worry, I’ve got it.” He said he got to his car and was like, Why did I do that? I do actually need help. Long story short, he went back in, said yes, they and their crew of friends came over and got the whole mess cleaned up in a couple of hours. They literally just know him from popping in to grab his coffee and they gathered a whole posse and cleaned up what would have been a really expensive, time-consuming mess, just because they’re sweethearts. And my friend sat down after it was done and cried with relief.

And it’s not just Iowans—amazing folks from all around the area have come in to help and lots of GTers have helped!! On that FB page, I’ve seen retirees from WI and IL post saying, We have a chainsaw and a truck. Where can we help? Folks from out of town are putting out calls for donations, cramming trucks full and bringing them here. I just couldn’t be more grateful to the people on the ground—the National Guard who’re helping clean up and direct traffic, the electrical workers and the internet company’s workers getting everyone hooked back up, the folks feeding, housing, comforting people. And all the folks providing the resources for those folks! We’ll get through this, thanks to those folks and thanks to everyone here for donating and boosting. <3 I hope y’all know how much I personally appreciate the donations you’ve made, the voice you’ve given to those of us who feel pretty damn invisible, and the emotional support you all offer all the time but especially right now. Thank you and I love you! <3

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Gif: Giphy

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