How Iowa Recovers After Devastating Derecho Storm
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Hundreds of thousands of Iowans remain without power after a devastating derecho storm hit the state on Monday. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds visited Cedar Rapids today, where hundreds of buildings have been damaged or destroyed.
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KIM REYNOLDS: It is unbelievable, the damage that we're seeing and how widespread it is. It's significant - no, beyond significant.
MCCAMMON: Democrat Stacey Walker is a county supervisor in Linn County in Eastern Iowa, where Cedar Rapids is located. He joins me now to talk about the response to the crisis.
STACEY WALKER: Hi, Sarah. Thanks for having me.
MCCAMMON: Thanks for being with us. What is the situation like there on the ground?
WALKER: It's utter devastation here. Linn County is the second-largest county in the state, and I've read reports of upwards of 80% of our population here being without power. And not only that - there are some areas that don't have access to water with power being out. And our cellular towers being damaged, there are also many areas of the community that are without the ability to communicate via cellphone or access the Internet. So things are pretty dire right now on the ground.
MCCAMMON: My understanding is that while you're dealing with the aftermath of the storm, you're also seeing the biggest COVID-19 spike in three months there in Linn County. How is that affecting the county's ability to respond to this disaster?
WALKER: Well, everything that we're doing, we have to keep COVID in the background and in the forefront. This means emergency personnel are having to be careful when they interact with people who they're trying to provide assistance to. It also means we have to ensure that our medical infrastructure has access to power. So it is a crisis within a crisis.
MCCAMMON: How do you feel overall about the state and federal response to this disaster so far?
WALKER: Oh, Sarah (laughter), I'm trying to be diplomatic here. Look. When you're in a crisis, I think people want and expect their needs to be met immediately. That did not happen in this case. We had this land hurricane with wind speeds between 85 to 110 miles per hour devastate our community on Monday, and we still haven't seen a federal disaster declaration. So I think a lot of folks, including myself, are really hoping for a faster, stronger response than what we've seen.
MCCAMMON: You are, as I understand it, one of three county supervisors there in Linn County, Iowa. How much of the delayed response do you take responsibility for?
WALKER: Well, look. The buck stops with us. I mean, this hit us on Monday. And, you know, it wasn't until yesterday where our board decided we are going to stop quibbling about process and just start making these requests to our governor and to the federal government for help. We hadn't heard from a lot of these individuals, and communication wasn't coordinated. And I take responsibility for, you know, waiting until Thursday.
MCCAMMON: Gov. Reynolds says she is working to get a presidential disaster declaration next week. What additional federal resources does your county need to address the damage?
WALKER: Some estimates I'm hearing in the community are putting the damage in the billions of dollars. And so we're going to need sustained resources to help these communities recover - not to mention the fact that most people were expecting school to start here in a couple weeks, and many of our schools in this community have been damaged. And so I hope it's not one of those scenarios where people sort of parachute in and, you know, drop off food and other resources, and then we never hear from them again. We're going to need people to be around for the long haul.
MCCAMMON: That's Democratic county supervisor Stacey Walker in Linn County, Iowa.
Thanks so much.
WALKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.