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‘Every area of our city has seen destruction’: Local and state leaders call on Gov. Reynolds to deploy National Guard to Cedar Rapids to help with storm damage

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Aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho in Cedar Rapids. — photo courtesy of Steve Shriver

Every area of Cedar Rapids has seen destruction from the derecho that swept through Iowa on Monday, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said. The destruction is more extensive than what the city experienced in the floods of 2008 and 2016, he added.

“This is a greater impact than we’ve ever seen in this community,” Pomeranz said at the start of the nearly two-hour press conference on Thursday. “This doesn’t minimize the impacts that we saw in 2008. In this particular storm, this derecho, every area of our city has seen destruction and the impact goes well beyond the city of Cedar Rapids.”

Pomeranz said the 2008 flood impacted about 14 square miles of the city. Monday’s derecho, he said, impacted all 75 square miles of Cedar Rapids.

“This … derecho has caused widespread damage throughout our community. … This has disrupted our lives.” Pomeranz said, adding that it is heartbreaking to see the damage to homes, roofs, trees and the anguish that residents are feeling.

Hospitals have also been overwhelmed by individuals visiting the emergency room, Pomeranz said.

Much of Cedar Rapids — and the rest of Linn County — remains without power. Some residents are slowly getting power back, but Alliant Energy spokesperson Mike Wagner said it could be five to seven days until power is “substantially restored” in the city. Even then, that doesn’t mean everyone will have their power back.

“The damage has been extensive, unprecedented and unlike anything our company has ever seen,” Wagner said. “Nearly every circuit in this community has been impacted in one way, shape or form by this storm.”

Pomeranz said that communicating information to residents has been challenging due to the power and internet outages. The city has started distributing flyers with information to local grocery stores and home improvement stores to update residents, in addition to the usual ways of getting information out by social media, website and text messages.

Information from the city is also being broadcasted by WMT 600 AM radio at 7:10 a.m. and again at 8:35 a.m. The same information will be on Z102.9 FM at 7:30 a.m.

Aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho in Cedar Rapids. — photo courtesy of Steve Shriver

Local and state officials at Thursday’s press conference called on Gov. Kim Reynolds to bring in the National Guard and ask for a federal disaster declaration. Reynolds will hold a press conference in Cedar Rapids Friday at noon.

Supervisor Ben Rogers said the Linn County Board of Supervisors formally call upon Reynolds to bring in the National Guard and ask President Donald Trump to issue a presidential disaster declaration.

Rep. Abby Finkenauer, whose Congressional district was heavily impacted by the derecho, said a request needs to be made to the president “as quickly as possible” so federal resources can be delivered to the state. Finkenauer, who lives in Cedar Rapids, shared just some of the stories she’s heard from her neighbors. She mentioned how one of her neighbors can’t keep her breast milk cold since the power is out and the family doesn’t have ice or a generator.

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“[The derecho] was essentially like a hurricane coming through the Midwest, but it’s different because with hurricanes, you get advanced notice that they’re coming, so folks are able to stock up on whether it’s water or medication or ice, or be able to have the things that they need to go without electricity for a week at a time if necessary,” Finkenauer said. “This, however, was not the case with this derecho. We found out maybe 10 minutes before, if folks were lucky enough to find out.”

“We, again, need all the help and resources we can get. So we’ll continue to push for that, and we also call on the governor’s office to join us in that effort as well. On top of that, we need state assistance in any form possible, whether that is the National Guard or any type of assistance that they can provide.”

Aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho in Cedar Rapids. — courtesy of Steve Shriver

Questions of whether or not Cedar Rapids officials support bringing the National Guard into Cedar Rapids came up after KCRG published a story prior to the press conference with comments from Mayor Hart indicating that he and Pomeranz didn’t believe the National Guard was necessary.

“I don’t know that we need help. That’s the thing … I…I just told you, I don’t know what other resources the National Guard could do. Could they do traffic control? Could they bring ice? Could they bring water? I don’t know that, I’m trying to find that out,” Hart told KCRG.

During the press conference, Hart said he was misquoted. He said his response was specifically to a question about if the National Guard should be brought in to assist with tree debris removal.

“I want to make sure everybody understands the question. My response yesterday was not that we’ll refuse the Guard or we don’t need the Guard,” Hart said. “It was specific to tree debris removal. We have contractors ready to go, we have a huge city staff ready to go and we have maybe 30 vehicles coming from the Iowa Department of Transportation. So I think we’re all ready to handle our tree removal. That was all I said, ‘I don’t think we need the National Guard to come in for tree removal.’ It was nothing more to it.”

Pomeranz said he “absolutely supports the National Guard assisting” if that is what the state decides is the best option, since the city can’t directly request the National Guard. He said the city is making a list of critical resources and assistance and then it’s up to the state and Linn County Emergency Management Agency to determine the best method to deliver that to Cedar Rapids.

“I personally support having the National Guard here because of the needs that are in our community, and absolutely, we’ll be making that request of the governor tomorrow,” Pomeranz said. “… There’s gonna be a variety of ways that they can help us. We think it would be of assistance, but that does not take away all the work that’s being done by everybody else.”

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