'It looks like a hurricane': Derecho leaves Cedar Rapids residents displaced 2 months later
Two months after Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was hit by a derecho, residents are still awaiting repairs. AccuWeather’s Emmy Victor surveys the damage that remains.
The scene of multiple apartment complexes shredded and torn apart by hurricane-strength winds has been a reminder of the destructive power of a derecho for residents of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for nearly two months now.
On Aug. 10, an extreme weather phenomenon called a "derecho" swept across Iowa and northern Illinois, carving a nearly 800-mile path of destruction that was visible from space. The swift-moving complex of thunderstorms prompted wind reports equivalent in speed to a strong Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane.
The derecho raced eastward across the Midwest, causing destruction along its path on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. (NWS Chicago)
Cedar Rapids measured sustained winds of 90 to 140 mph for nearly 45 minutes, according to Greg Buelow, the city's Public Safety Communications Coordinator. The damage and danger was widespread.
The city's fire department typically averages 37 calls a day, but on Aug. 10, it responded to 535 calls, Buelow said. Police officers responded to 688 calls that day, nearly double the average number of calls per day for the two weeks prior. Within one hour, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 10, the Joint Communications Center fielded 962 emergency and non-emergency calls -- the highest number of calls in one hour before then was back in 2019 when they fielded 70 calls.
Over 50,000 homes in Cedar Rapids were damaged in the derecho that tore through the city in August, leaving multiple families displaced. (Image/Emmy Victor)
About 51,000 Cedar Rapids homes and 3,500 businesses were damaged in some form or another. Two months later, a few apartment complexes still look like the derecho had blown through days before rather than months.
A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggests that the devastating derecho resulted in a combined $7.5 billion in damages, and destroyed millions of acres of corn and soybean crops across Iowa.
"The damage was both widespread and significant throughout town, so you will see many tarps on roofs, tree debris piles and damaged homes," Buelow told AccuWeather in an email.
Hurricane-strength winds severely damaged multiple structures, exposing any belongings left behind to the elements. (Image/Emmy Victor)
Exterior walls torn from buildings, metal balcony railings warped and bent, and blue tarps covering whatever might remain of a roof -- all can be found in the city.
"It's not safe for all of those people to be on the street and then the weather is about to change," Cedar Rapids resident Ronald Aristil told AccuWeather's Emmy Victor. "If they don't fix it, and it starts [to] snow, everything is about to be covered in snow right now."
Seasonable temperatures experienced Saturday wont stick around for long, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Alex DaSilva, as a cold front will move through the area overnight.
"Temperatures will crash on Sunday struggling to make it into the mid-40s, which is about 15 degrees colder than average," DaSilva said. "The cold front could even bring us a few snowflakes Sunday morning, although no accumulation is expected."
Monday won't bring any relief with temperatures expected to drop to nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit below normal before dropping into the 20s overnight.
"Temperatures will start to rebound for Tuesday and Wednesday, and by Thursday, temperatures will once again return to near seasonal values," DaSilva said.
Cedar Rapids resident Ronald Aristril voiced his concerns with AccuWeather about how the oncoming cold weather might impact people displaced by the derecho. (Image/Emmy Victor)
The derecho displaced a number of families, and the Catherine McAuley Center, a transitional housing program in the city, turned its old building into a shelter. Nearly 50 families came to their doors, and as of Tuesday, Oct. 13, 20 families are still staying at the center, according to KGAN CBS 2.
Travis Osen Foss and his family, while not staying in a shelter, were one of the countless families displaced by the derecho. Today, they still live an hour and a half away with relatives and Foss estimated it could be late winter or early spring before they return to Cedar Rapids again.
Foss recounted the storm to Victor, which damaged his roof and allowed rain to seep into the house and damage the carpet and furniture. But his thoughts had not been on any water damage at the time, but of the large tree in their backyard.
With no basement in their house to shelter in, Travis Osen Foss and his family were worried the large tree in their yard could fall on their house during the derecho. (Image/Emmy Victor)
"I was cognizant of that tree and I didn't know if it fell down how much of the house it would crunch and what it would do," Foss said. "We don't have a basement in our house, so we sat right here in the living room and listened to the storm come through."
The derecho destroyed nearly 65% of the city's tree canopy, according to Buelow, but the tree Foss had been concerned with throughout the storm remained firmly planted by the end of the day.
Travis Osen Foss tells AccuWeather about the derecho that damaged his home and their efforts in repairing. (Image/Emmy Victor)
Mountains of tree debris still line the streets of Foss's neighborhood as crews continue their clean-up efforts.
"One of the things we love about our community, our neighborhood, is the trees," Foss told Victor. "All these trees are just snapped like twigs. It looks like a hurricane."
Reporting by Emmy VictorReport a Typo
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