Post-Derecho Plea: Cedar Rapids Faces Cleanup, Food & Power Crises

Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, after the derecho on August 10. (photo by Dania de Bortoli Mosbek)

The sudden, intense storm that swept across Iowa on Monday, August 10, left many without power, internet, or phone service and a pile of debris that will take weeks to clean up. The derecho, carrying wind gusts that clocked over 100 miles per hour (similar to a Category 2 hurricane), traveled over 700 miles from Nebraska to Chicago, and bore down on Cedar Rapids particularly hard.

“I had 8 minutes’ notice to run around my house to get flashlights, water, my animals safe, and car in the garage,” says Mary Schmidt-Luhring of Cedar Rapids. “The wind was so strong it knocked me on the cement . . . I got into the house right as it hit.”

Fenceposts and branches down in a Cedar Rapids yard (photo by Mary Schmidt-Luhring)

Though the storm made its way into neighboring states, Iowa appears to be left with the greatest devastation, including houses damaged, large semi-trailers overturned, power lines destroyed, and massive trees blocking roadways.

Allie Wilkes of Cedar Rapids says she “ended up temporarily homeless due to a tree falling on the house I was renting,” and adds, “I was lucky enough to get away from the area Monday after the storm hit and stay with my parents for this week, but many friends and family in the Cedar Rapids surrounding area aren’t so lucky.”

Tree clean-up in Iowa City (photo courtesy of Thomas Dean)

For those working remotely due to COVID-19, the impact of the storm and subsequent power outage have left many unable to work. “It’s day number four without power,” says Nakita Mauer of Marion. “Our property sustained significant damage. Working remotely is non-existent.”

Photo by Mary Schmidt-Luhring of Cedar Rapids after the derecho hit town on August 10, 2020.

Schmidt-Luhring, owner of Cedar Rapids business Rise Up Counseling, adds, “There was no internet, power, or cell phone service for virtually everyone for the first 24 hours…. I have been driving up to Parkersburg every day to have internet access…. It’s 88 miles one way; each day I buy supplies that I can take back to the Cedar Rapids area and distribute.”

Cleanup after tree damage in Grinnell (photo by Lesley Wright)

Caught on the road between Ames and Cedar Rapids when the storm hit, Spencer Davis was driving with his parents on his way to college. “We had to take shelter under a bridge,” he says, “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.”

Tree damage in the wake of the August 10 derecho (photo by Beth Dalbey)

It’s not the first time Cedar Rapids has faced natural disaster in recent decades, and residents have been quick to organize help. “It’s really refreshing to see the community power through something like this again with so much love,” Spencer says. “It reminds me of the cleanup effort we had after the 2008 flood.”

Fong’s Pizza of Cedar Rapids has delivered over 800 pizzas to the community in the last few days. “We are so sad to see all the destruction and so many people living in tents or cars outside their home … we will continue to help as much as we can ❤,” says their Facebook post.

Cedar Rapids resident Scott Tesar has seen the same spirit fueling cleanup efforts. “After seeing a whole community come together after such devastation, it really gives a new meaning to ‘Iowa nice’.” Echoing his sentiment is Dusty Swehla of Marion: “We are without power, houses destroyed, a chorus of generators and chainsaws is all we hear…. As a community, we will work together to rebuild Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas.”

Derecho storm damage (Photo by Dania de Bortoli Mosbek)

Toward that end, local citizens have set up online resources, including Facebook pages Iowa Derecho 2020 Storm Resource Page and Rally C.A.P.—Champion and Protect Local Business. You can also donate to Venmo: @iowaderecho to help the people in Linn County who lost homes, access to food, water service, electricity, and phone. (More ways to help are listed at the end of the article.)

“This is what Iowans do,” says Mary Diers of Marion. “We help people. Especially during times where our own government fails us. We will come through this, but our beautiful towns will never be the same.”

Donations of food, water, and cash on their way to Cedar Rapids from Fairfield.

Though locals are finding inspiration from “Iowa nice” community volunteers, more assistance is needed. The long-term impacts of the storm remain unclear. “Certain areas have power and others could be weeks,” says Katrina Fults of Cedar Rapids. “Too many systems and people have been weakened by the economy and pandemic. . . . Those who need support and have no resources to put their lives back together far outnumber those who can help.”

Megan S. of Northeast Iowa, who travels daily to Cedar Rapids, has noticed how the power outages are wearing on everyone. “The devastation from the derecho is just beginning to emerge,” she says. “Once the trees are cleared away and the power restored, the deeper issues of poverty and inequality will continue to damage families across the state.”

A common thread among residents is a 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, they worry that the resources of the community will run dry.

“I just wish it got more coverage in national headlines,” says Spencer Davis, “because most people don’t even know about this yet!”

Volunteer or Donate Cash and Supplies

FAIRFIELDERS & SOUTHEAST IOWANS! If you’d like to help this Saturday and Sunday, August 22-23, volunteers are needed for brush clean up, debris pick up, tarp placement on rooftops, and many other tasks great and small. Chainsaws and ladders are needed, but not necessary. Linn Cornick of Fairfield is coordinating with folks in Cedar Rapids to determine the most urgent tasks. Please call or text Linn for more information: (515) 991-1873.

Iowa Giving Crew: A 501(c)(3) nonprofit accepting donations toward food, shelter, and cleanup

Operation BBQ Relief: A nonprofit making meals for those in need in Cedar Rapids

Make monetary donations through Venmo (@iowaderecho) or PayPal (

Iowa Derecho 2020 Storm Resource Page: Find current needs and specific requests from those in need.