It’s me, Iowa, calling out to the rest of the world. Hello?
Are you out there? Do you remember me? I could use a little help.
I didn’t even know what a derecho was until last Monday.
Honestly, I’d never heard of it before. It sounds like it might be something delicious you could order at a Mexican restaurant. It’s not that.
Last Monday morning, here in Charles City, I was getting some work done, typing away. Outside a thunderstorm rumbled and rocked, but it was nothing I’d never seen before. Actually, it was kind of relaxing. We needed the rain.
My phone vibrated. I was receiving a text message from an old buddy in Cedar Rapids, who was spending the morning with his teenage son, Owen.
“CR just been devastated by worst storm I’ve ever been in,” the message said. “Much of city looks like combat zone. Owen and I were in truck and barely made it to safety.”
An alarm went off in my head. Something is amiss. My friend is not one who over-reacts or exaggerates. He’s in his 50s, and seen his share of bad weather events. He said this is the worst storm he’s ever been in. He said Cedar Rapids is “devastated.” Something really bad must’ve happened.
I checked my news sources and my social media. I was seeing reports from everyone, from all over the state. The messages were frightening. The photos I saw were chilling. Faces torn off buildings. Cars flipped on their backs. Entire fields of corn flattened. Trees down, piled 30 feet high. Homes demolished. It wasn’t just Cedar Rapids, it was the entire middle third of Iowa.
I checked on my sister in the Quad Cities. She was alive and unharmed, and so were my nephews. Some damage. A tree was down in her yard, and her area was without power. Little did she know they would be without power for five entire days. Thank God no one was killed, she said.
That seemed to be the line of the day. “I can’t believe we’re still alive.” Nearly everyone I contacted counted that blessing at the end of their extensive damage report.
Messages continued to come from my buddy in Cedar Rapids and others, from all over Iowa.
“Can’t even drive on most streets and area is out of power.”
“Windows out of many homes and biz. 100+ mph winds.”
“Roof blew off girlfriend’s house, they lost everything. Many roofs blew off all over.”
“Counted 14 semis down leaving CR.”
My buddy was getting out of Cedar Rapids, to stay at a place in northern Iowa, away from the devastation. It wasn’t until that evening that he had time tell the full story of what happened to him and to Owen Monday morning. He told several of us via Facebook Messenger.
“Owen and I were near Westdale having lunch. We just finished when the sirens were going off. Still calm and sunny, but dark to the west. Sky started turning green, so I told him we better get home before the rain started.”
The rain was going to be the least of my friend’s problems.
“Got on road and within 200 yards it was blowing so hard I could hardly see and drive. Huge limbs and trees were falling into the road and debris was flying everywhere. Several power lines fell near us and one exploded on the street right next to driver-side door as we met another car. If I hadn’t known the way, we couldn’t have seen well enough to continue.”
My buddy decided he didn’t want to risk driving his truck over the bridge, so he began looking for somewhere else to stop and seek shelter.
“We got to the Cherry Building, where my old studio was, which is a huge brick building and I felt was the safest place. I tried to pull up as close as possible to the back door so Owen could run to the door, but a bike rack kept us about 30 feet away.”
My friend said that at this point, the wind had to be over 100 mph and “debris was airborne everywhere.”
“Owen could barely push the truck door open, so I decided I’d just leave the truck where it was and help him to the door. We could barely stay upright, and several people inside the building helped open the door to let us in. We sheltered there in the dark in the basement for about an hour.”
“The parking spot I was going to use after letting Owen out had large trees in it when it was over. We had several guys helping to move the logs so I could back out. All the side streets were full of trees … it took us over an hour to drive three miles to the house.”
My friend’s story was not unique. In the week since the Iowa derecho, I’ve read and heard dozens of similar tales. Tens of thousands of people were without power for five or six days. Thousands are without homes. More than one-third of Iowa’s corn crop is gone with the wind.
It took four days for the governor to activate the national guard to help. It took a week for the governor to request federal assistance. The vice-president was in Iowa last week, but strictly for a campaign stop. The damage and devastation was not surveyed — it was barely mentioned.
As I write this on Monday, I just heard that the president is going to make a stop here, presumably to check the damage and offer support.
Better late than never, I guess.
A year ago, there were more than two dozen political candidates running all over our state, telling us how much they loved us, asking us to caucus for them. Until Sunday, I hadn’t heard a peep from any of them regarding our inland hurricane.
I’ve heard many Iowans complain that there has barely been a mention of this in the national news. The damage to Iowa is far greater than the damage administered by any of the storms and hurricanes that have hit the coasts this year — and some of those storms received days upon days of national news coverage.
I realize there’s a whole lot going on in the world right now, and all of it deserves news coverage. This is a big story, though, and almost everyone — from elected officials to mass media outlets — has failed to recognize that. It’s been largely ignored outside our borders, and that’s a problem.
If you don’t get coverage, you don’t get attention. If you don’t get attention, you don’t get assistance.
We’re Iowans. We’re tough. We’re kind. Iowans are resilient. We look out for each other. Our right-wing nuts will stand right next to our left-wing wackos and together they’ll work and sweat and fix things and comfort one another. Hawkeyes will help Cyclones, and Cyclones will help Hawkeyes, Panthers will help everyone, and we will prevail. We’ve done it before.
We can clean this up on our own, we can take care of each other without all that outside aid. And we will, if we have to.
But it sure would be easier if we got a little help.
Hello world? It’s me, Iowa.