A Devastating Storm
On August 10, 2020, with very little time to prepare, a "derecho" hit the City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, bringing wind speeds of 140 mph and causing widespread devastation throughout our community. The unprecedented straight-line windstorm damaged every corner of our 75 square mile city and impacted every resident in some way.
The City of Cedar Rapids continues to respond to the community's needs following derecho.
The City of Cedar Rapids knows how important it is to be prepared for any situation — especially before, during, and after emergencies. Find an overview of our efforts.
When the storm passed and people came outside, they saw beloved trees laying across lawns and streets, homes that were devastated, and neighborhoods that were unrecognizable. Amid an already difficult year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cedar Rapidians did what they knew how to do – the thing they do best when times are tough - they worked together; they helped their neighbors; they began to recover.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the storm caused $7.5 billion in damage between South Dakota and Ohio, ranking it as the most costly thunderstorm in U.S. history.
While the storm was overwhelming and life-changing for many, it also reinforced the resilient nature of the people who live here. Experiencing devastating and record-breaking flood events in 2008 and 2016, this city knows hardship. But its citizens are perpetually determined to make their community, and the lives of their neighbors, better than before.
As our community continues to rebuild and recover, this natural disaster proves once again that Cedar Rapids is a compassionate, strong, and resilient community.
The term derecho was unknown to most everyone in Cedar Rapids until August 10, 2020, when we were faced with one head-on. The Midwest is known for flooding and tornados, but no one anticipated a fast-moving hurricane-like storm with straight-line winds of up to 140 miles per hour lasting over 45 minutes.
When the unprecedented storm passed and people came outside, they saw decades-old trees that once lined their streets and yards destroyed and completely uprooted. What had taken generations to grow, toppled in minutes. Up to 100,000 trees were damaged and destroyed—more than 65 percent of the city’s tree canopy.
The power grid sustained unprecedented damage.
Alliant Energy and Linn County REC reported all Cedar Rapids customers were without power immediately after the storm. Traffic signals, roadway signage, and other critical services were down. The City's water and wastewater treatment plants, police and fire stations, and local hospitals relied on generator power to maintain operation.
Homes and businesses throughout the city were devastated. The entire community was without power for a week or more. Every traffic signal in the city sustained some level of damage. The storm also severely limited communication, as damage to local towers and above-ground cable lines caused widespread outages of cellular and internet service. Damage from the derecho reached all 74 square miles of Cedar Rapids, making it more devastating than the Flood of 2008.
City crews began clearing roadways immediately to make way for emergency vehicles. Fire and Police departments responded to record-shattering numbers of calls for service. Emergency shelters, neighborhood resource centers, and food distribution sites were established. Informational flyers were distributed at the local grocery, home improvement stores, and throughout the community. Within 48 hours of the storm, 111 truckloads of debris were hauled. Within 15 days of the storm, 195 traffic and pedestrian signals were operational.
The Joint Communications Center fielded 962 emergency and non-emergency calls from 1–2 PM on August 10.
The previous record high number of calls in one hour was 70 calls in 2019.
The Fire Department responded to 535 calls on August 10 between 12:30 PM and Midnight.
The Fire Department averages 37 calls per day.
Police officers responded to 688 calls for service on August 10.
The average number of calls per day for the two weeks prior was 368 calls.
Alliant Energy crews were joined by crews from across the country and Canada, along with the Iowa National Guard, to form a team of over 2000 people during the restoration process. The City received assistance from more than 25 municipalities and private contractors. Cedar Rapidians worked together clearing streets, tarping roofs, cleaning yards, and taking care of their family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.
Clean-up efforts began immediately and lasted months because of the sheer volume. When all was done, more than 4.2 million cubic yards of tree debris was hauled. Jamey Flannery, president of the debris-hauling company, said it was the worst their company had seen, including in Louisiana after hurricane Katrina.
Solid Waste & Recycling
In the week following the storm, garbage crews tipped 1,070 tons of regular weekly customer garbage at the landfill. That is approximately 2.5 times the average for the same time period the previous year.
Most of this garbage was collected by hand, as customers placed bags of spoiled food at the curb.
Other recovery efforts will take much longer. The city over lost 65 percent of our tree canopy. Regrowth of trees will take decades, but the City has made replanting and restoring the tree canopy a priority. ReLeaf Cedar Rapids is a public and private collaborative effort to develop a comprehensive plan and fundraising effort for reforestation over the next 10 years.
Within 48 hours of the storm, 111 truckloads of tree debris were hauled. To date, 4,249,900 cubic yards of tree debris have been removed within Cedar Rapids alone.
Within 15 days of the storm, 195 traffic and pedestrian signals were operational.
The City of Cedar Rapids received cleanup and infrastructure assistance from more than 25 municipalities and private contractors.
While the storm was overwhelming and life-changing for many, it also reinforced the resilient nature of the people who live here. This city may know hardship, but its citizens and leaders are perpetually determined to make their community better than before.