Gov. Reynolds will apply for federal disaster assistance on Monday

Gov. Kim Reynolds had a press conference in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 14 to discuss the damage the city and Linn County suffered in the Aug. 10 derecho. — video still

Gov. Kim Reynolds will be submitting an application to the federal government on Monday, asking President Trump to issue a major disaster declaration for storm-damaged areas in Iowa. Reynolds made the announcement during a press conference in Cedar Rapids, one of the cities hit hardest by Monday’s derecho.

“The destruction was indescribable,” Reynolds said on Friday. The governor toured damaged neighborhoods in Marion earlier this week and in Cedar Rapids before her press conference at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.

“Both the president and the vice president have pledged their support to Iowa and said that they stood ready to approve a federal disaster declaration,” Reynolds said, adding that she has spoken with Trump by phone and updated Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to Iowa on Thursday.

A major disaster declaration provides federal assistance programs and funds for individuals and public infrastructure, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Governors can apply for the declaration, which then gets either approved or denied by the president, if they believe the situation is “beyond the capability of the State and affected local governments.”

Reynolds was asked why she’s waiting until Monday to submit the declaration.

“There’s criteria that you have to make, so we got people doing surveillance,” Reynolds said. “I mean, that’s, I asked for today. So that’s my goal, but realistically, by the time we collect the information, that’s just how long it’s gonna take.”

Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management director Joyce Flinn added that there is “a lot of detailed information” that is part of the request. The application includes an estimate of the damage, description of state efforts following the disaster, preliminary estimates of assistance needed, among other requirements according to FEMA.

Flinn added that there are civil air patrol planes doing mapping of debris piles to give the federal government “an idea of the magnitude of the disaster.” Flinn and her team are also verifying estimates from utility companies.

“We’ll be working all weekend,” Flinn said. “The governor did ask if I could have this done today. It’s the only time I’ve told her no, we could not get it done this quickly, but we’re working on it. We will have a letter prepared for her signature so she can submit that declaration on Monday.”

Following Monday’s storm, Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation that now allows 25 counties, including Linn and Johnson, to use state resources to address storm damage. There is a state grant program available for individuals whose homes were damaged in the derecho.

Local and state leaders urged Reynolds to deploy the Iowa National Guard to Linn County. About 100 National Guard engineers arrived in the county on Friday.

During Friday’s press conference, Maj. Gen. Ben Corell, the adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard, said the damage from the storm is “something I haven’t seen in the state of Iowa before. The last time I saw this was in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”

One of hundreds of vehicles crushed by debris in Cedar Rapids during Monday’s derecho. — courtesy of Steve Shriver

Corell said the first priorities of the National Guard are to clean up tree debris and get residents their power back. Many Cedar Rapids and Linn County residents have been without power for days. As of Friday morning, 72,600 Alliant Energy customers in Linn County were still without power. By Friday afternoon that number was down to 67,312.

The company has committed to restoring power to those without it by Tuesday, a quicker estimate than what was given at Thursday’s Cedar Rapids press conference. There are more than 700 crews on the ground working on restoration, with more people scheduled to arrive.

“In seven days, we will replace more than 2,500 poles across the state — the equivalent of 8 months of usual work,” Alliant Energy said in a tweet.

Reynolds said following the press conference she will meet with Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) Superintendent Noreen Bush. In a message to families earlier this week, Bush outlined the damage to the district’s schools.

All of the district’s buildings have some type of damage from Monday’s derecho, according to Bush. There is major tree damage at all buildings, major roof damage at 16 buildings, minor roof damage at 12 buildings and puncture damage at the other six. The buildings that have major roof damage also have water and structural damage, Bush said.

“At this point, we know we will be delaying the start of the school year… for how long is yet to be determined,” Bush said in the message.

Reynolds said that she might be issuing a proclamation to address the added challenges schools are facing after the derecho. She did not say when such a proclamation might be issued or what it would include.

“We think we’re going to do a different proclamation that will help address some of the damage that’s been done by the severe storms,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to continue, like we have been, working with our school districts across the state to help them stand our schools back up and get our kids educated.”

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