Cedar Rapids commemorates the devastating August 2020 derecho and a year of recovery

Cedar Rapids elected officials planted a tree in Bever Park during the one-year anniversary of the August 2020 derecho in honor of the ongoing recovery. Aug. 10, 2021. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

“When the storm passed through Cedar Rapids and we could venture back outside, we all saw our beloved trees laying across lawns, streets, on homes. So many homes were devastated. Neighborhoods were unrecognizable,” Mayor Brad Hart told the crowd at Bever Park on Tuesday morning to commemorate the August 2020 derecho.

“In the midst of an already difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic, Cedar Rapids did what we know how to do — we know how to come together. In difficult times, we worked together, we stepped up and everyone did their part. It’s really that spirit of resilience and perseverance and kindness that we’re here today to celebrate.”

Cedar Rapids residents, city staff, elected officials and other community members gathered together on Tuesday — the one-year anniversary of the derecho — to look back on the devastation but also on the progress that has been made in the city’s recovery efforts.

Mayor Brad Hart during the city’s one-year derecho anniversary celebration on Aug. 10, 2021. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

On Aug. 10, 2020, Cedar Rapidians had little to no time to prepare for the winds of up to 140 miles an hour that would devastate all 75 square miles of the city. Hart said 6,000 homes and businesses were damaged.

City crews hauled more than 4 million cubic yards of tree debris, according to City Manager Jeff Pomeranz. To put that into perspective, he said, 1,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools could be filled with the tree debris collected in Cedar Rapids.

The derecho destroyed more than 65 percent of the city’s tree canopy. Statewide, about a quarter of the trees in Iowa’s forests were destroyed.

Following the storm, the city launched ReLeaf Cedar Rapids, a multimillion-dollar, decade-long effort to begin replanting the city’s tree canopy. The effort will focus on planting diverse varieties of native trees and prioritize equity in replanting efforts.

And at least one tree was planted on Tuesday. Hart, Pomeranz and members of the Cedar Rapids City Council planted a Swamp White Oak in Bever Park.

“Regrowth of our trees will take decades, and as we all know, trees provide much more to humanity than just a beautiful tree,” Pomeranz said. “Our trees are critical to the sustainability of our world. We have made replanting and restoring our tree canopy a priority in the city of Cedar Rapids.”

A plaque in front of the tree planted by Cedar Rapids City Councilmembers. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The city is having another event later this month that will prioritize healing from the derecho and reflecting on what happened through an art project. Residents will also be able to speak with mental health representatives if they’d like.

People attending the event will be provided with paint, brushes and a circular slice of wood recovered from the derecho, which they can paint individually or as part of a group, and then take home.

There will be four opportunities to participate; no registration is required and the events are free and open to the public.

• Tuesday, August 17 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Redmond Park, 1545 3rd Ave SE

• Thursday, August 19 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Reed Park, 618 7th Ave SW

• Thursday, August 26 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Matthew 25 Mega Market, 437 G Ave NW

• Monday, August 30 from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Noelridge Park Farmers Market, 4900 Council St NE (corner of Collins Rd and Council St NE)

“It was really remarkable how many people stood up to help their neighbors and to help our community,” Hart said on Tuesday. “While this storm was overwhelming and life-changing for many, it really did reinforce the resilient and caring nature of the citizens of Cedar Rapids. This city certainly has known hardship before, but our citizens and our leaders are always determined to make Cedar Rapids stronger and better than before.”

Cedar Rapids City Councilmembers weren’t the only ones who helped with the tree planting. Kids at the event participated too. Aug. 10, 2021. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

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