Courtesy Mary Rethman
Mary Rethman, resident of Belle Plaine, Iowa, woke her family up on August 10th at about noon to 112-mile-per-hour winds–equivalent to the force of a level-two hurricane. A tree nearly three feet in diameter destroyed her roof, damaging her kitchen, laundry room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. As Rethman moved through the kitchen during the storm, part of the ceiling collapsed on top of her.
Rethman was not hurt, but her family may need to buy a new home due to the damage sustained during the derecho. Over a week later, the tree is still on her roof while she stays in a hotel.
“The winds just riddled the town,” Rethman says.
Rethman's family is still assessing the damage to the home to see what can be fixed or if they must move.
A derecho in Iowa leaves devastation in its wake
In the aftermath of the storms, the Washington Post reports that more than a quarter of a million Iowans did not have power, homes and businesses were destroyed, and 43% of the state's soybean crops were decimated. Four deaths have been attributed to the storms, according to the Weather Channel.
Remodelers and home improvement professionals are struggling to restart their businesses while keeping up with the flood of inquiries. The Fire Deparment and Building Services Division of Cedar Rapids estimate that an estimated 80% to 90% of homes in the Cedar Rapids area suffered damage during the string of storms, CBS2 Iowa reports. Over 1,000 homes were so badly damaged that they considered a hazard to occupy, meaning the fire department would not enter in an emergency due to the risk of the building collapsing.
According to a poll conducted by Pro Remodeler on the Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Page on Facebook with over 330 responses, most residents who took the poll had damage on their roofs, siding, fencing, and windows. Other damage included HVAC systems, decks, garages, and drywall.
Remodelers, Home improvement professionals struggle to keep up with flood of inquiries after derecho
Pro Remodeler called 20 home improvement or remodeling businesses in Linn County and the surrounding area on August 17: Five companies picked up, 9 went to voicemail, and six phone lines were disconnected. One business’ inbox was completely full. Another’s power was still out, so the employee who took the call could not transfer it to the right contact.
Of the companies that did successfully pick up the phone, many have just recently regained power. Joe Sattler, one of the owners of Sattler Homes and Remodeling, says that his business was without it until Thursday night. “Friday we got power back, and we’ve had past customers contacting us, desperate to get their issues fixed,” he says. “It’s overwhelming.” The remodeling company had a stack of 15 projects come through Friday and Monday alone, and now they have a list of 30 additional people inquiring about future projects ranging from interior remodeles to siding, drywall, painting, and capreting–an influx of what Sattler estimates is 150% more than usual at this time.
Before the power came back on at his business, Sattler had to deal with his own power outage and home repairs. He says that his home only had some shingle damage, which he was able to fix himself, but others such as Rethman weren’t as lucky. The Sattler family business has been in Cedar Rapids for over 50 years, and Sattler says nothing even close to this has ever happened before. A tree went through the back of the house for one of their upcoming projects, and Sattler will have to take off part of the roof just to rebuild. Homes flooded and entire second-floors of apartment buildings were ripped clean off–all in blackout for a majority of the residents.
“You didn’t even have power to charge cell phones,” Sattler says.
Before/After damage just outside of Belle Plaine that Rethman sees on her drive to the hotel. Her family must stay in a hotel 50 miles way from their home–closer ones were all booked.
From six homes a week to six a day
Before the derecho, Tennille Jackson, co-owner of Jackson Home and Repair, which specializes in carpentry, paint, and drywall, visited roughly 6 houses in a week: Now the firm is doing that in a day. The immediate days after the storm were quiet as residents tried to access the damage, but now the company is getting so many requests that they have had to decide which projects they can address first.
“We're getting a lot of drywall requests from trees going through roofs and sides of houses,” Jackson says. “We're prioritizing those just because of safety and exposure to the elements.”
For now, Jackson is just trying to take as many calls as possible and do as many assessments as she can so residents can get claims to their insurance to get the ball rolling. “I hope that we can show them that there's a light at the end of the tunnel,” Jackson says.
Colony Heating and Air Conditioning regained power on Friday, August 14, and since then has been fielding hundreds of calls a day, according to Matt Hansen in the company’s marketing department. Employees have been working in close quarters in a shop with a backup generator, but they’re still able to service blown-out condensers and disconnected pads.
“A lot of rooftop units and commercial types have fallen off,” Hansen says. “Usually this is a time of transition [at this time of the year], but right now we’re working at full capacity to try and get air restored to whomever is without.”
Cots in Veterans Memorial Building for displaced individuals and families. Courtesy Nick Ferguson.
Just the beginning of rebuilding Iowa
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Even with widespread exterior and interior damage to homes, many Iowans in Cedar Rapids and the surrounding area are still in the early stages of trudging through insurance claims, according to a poll by Pro Remodeler on Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Page with over 110 responses. Others have not even begun and are still looking for the essentials–food, electricity, and shelter–as they pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the storms. Residents who have started the process have faced delays and uncertainty.
Cassidy Cook, resident of Cedar Rapids, filed for insurance right away and was able to secure an electrician. As for the rest of the damage on her house, it is unclear how long it will take to get a repair and file an insurance claim. Finding an available roofer has been the hardest part.
“I’m on the [roofing] list, but I’m sure I’m far out, especially since my damage doesn’t make my property uninhabitable,” Cook says. “I just worry that my claim will take forever to close due to the length of time it will be before the roof is fixed.”