Iowa’s delegation pushes for more aid as derecho recovery hits 1st anniversary

By: - August 10, 2021 2:59 pm

Grain bins in Luther were flattened by a derecho storm featuring winds of more than 100 mph. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The derecho storm that mowed over a large swath of Iowa’s corn and chopped down thousands of trees a year ago has elected officials wondering when the state will fully recover from the devastation.

Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls couldn’t make a prediction on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of one of the nation’s most severe inland storms. 

“It was a really stressful time. I mean, you’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and then on top of that you have this major natural disaster,” said Wahls, D-Coralville. 

“I think it’s very clear the state government has more to do. I think it’s impossible at this point to give you an exact timeline, per se, but I think … we’re going to continue to have more to do in the years ahead,” Wahls added.

Members of Iowa’s congressional delegation said they are pushing for more federal aid through a series of budget maneuvers and amendments.

Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Republicans, released videos marking the grim anniversary of what the National Weather Service called the United States’ most damaging thunderstorm. 

“Last year’s derecho was the most costly inland weather disaster in U.S. history,” Grassley said.

The storm, which caused $11 billion in damage across the Midwest, leveled a quarter of Iowa’s sparse forest land, destroying half of the tree canopy in Cedar Rapids. The storm also destroyed 850,000 acres of crops

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig tours crop damage after an Aug. 10 derecho storm in Iowa. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship)

The storm ripped through 770 miles of the Midwest, hitting eight states and killing four people over 14 hours, the National Weather Service reported.

“Today, there is still a long way to go for the many who were affected,” Ernst said. “But through it all, I’ve been moved by the stirring spirit of Iowans and encouraged by the resilience our communities have shown.”

Grassley and Ernst have worked with the rest of the Iowa delegation to increase aid to derecho victims

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-3rd District, said the goal is to increase disaster relief payments to farmers who lost crops in the storm. The House Agriculture Committee passed a bill that would authorize up to $8.5 billion to cover agricultural losses in natural disasters over the past two years. 

“This will make a world of difference,” Axne said in a statement

In an op-ed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-1st District, recalled the fear she and her family felt when the “land hurricane” spent 45 minutes of its 14-hour blitz ripping through Cedar Rapids. The city, like others across the nation, had been struggling through store closures and other fallout from the coronavirus pandemic before the storm made life that much more miserable.

“A year later, we are still in the middle of an uphill recovery process,” Hinson wrote. “Nearly every organization, business, farmer and family I talk to still is grappling with derecho damage.”

Hinson: Iowans are still waiting for federal assistance

And many still are waiting for federal aid

“Current estimates indicate that only 15% of Individual Assistance applications related to the derecho have been approved. Many who have applied are still waiting for a response from FEMA or have just given up dealing with the bureaucracy,” Hinson wrote.

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-2nd District, wrote on her Facebook page: “Last year’s derecho hit Iowa producers and families hard. While there is good bipartisan work being done in Congress, we must continue to work to support our farmers affected by this disaster.”

Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-4th District, told Raccoon Valley Radio that the work to increase federal aid to help with derecho recovery is bipartisan: “And here, collaboratively, we’re working together on a bill to try to get something done, so the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) has dollars to help the different disaster areas that occurred in 2020.”

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.