Derecho disaster damages estimated at $4 billion in Iowa

The Contributed
The Aug. 10 derecho storm destroyed this barn on the farm of Abby and Tim Clark near Ainsworth, Iowa.

By Barb Arland-Fye and Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

The derecho storm that ravaged Iowa last week caused an estimated $4 billion in damages, and Gov. Kim Reynolds has requested an expedited Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for the state to assist with the recovery.

“From cities to farms, Iowans are hurting; many still have challenges with shelter, food, and power. Resilience is in our DNA, but we’re going to need a strong and timely federal response to support recovery efforts,” Gov. Reynolds said in an Aug. 16 news release. She said she spoke last week with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence who pledged the full support of the federal government. President Trump was visiting Iowa at press time.

Gov. Reynolds requested funding under the Federal Emergency Management Agen­cy’s (FEMA) Individual Assistance Program for 27 counties, including nine in the Diocese of Davenport: Cedar, Clinton, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Muscatine, Poweshiek, Scott and Washington. Individual Assis­tance Program funding provides disaster-impacted homeowners and businesses with programs and services to maximize recovery, including assistance with housing, personal property replacement, medical expenses and legal services.


The governor also requested funding under FEMA’s Public Assistance Program for repair or replacement of public infrastructure and debris removal for 16 counties, seven of which are in the Diocese of Davenport: Cedar, Clinton, Jasper, Johnson, Muscatine, Poweshiek and Scott.

Iowa’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management led a multi-level approach to ascertain damage estimates, using technology and historic data because local agencies were still responding to the storm’s impacts and have not been able to complete detailed damage estimates, Gov. Reynolds said.

An estimated 8,273 homes have been destroyed or sustained major damage; public infrastructure sustained an estimated $23.6 million in damages and the cost of removal and disposal of debris has been estimated at $21.6 million.

Derecho impact in Davenport Diocese

Ss. Philip and James Parish in Grand Mound had its roof opened up by the derecho storm. Peter Whitman, the parish’s building committee chair, said the rubber on the church’s roof peeled back and popped up. Water entered the exposed area, soaking through the foam insulation and down into the church. Ceiling tiles fell, the carpet was soaked and some lights were damaged. A window also was broken. “The wood in the ceiling is saturated,” he said.

During a phone interview Aug.14, Whitman told The Catholic Messenger that the church still had no power. “A group of guys got a generator and we got the air conditioning on,” he said. When they hooked up the generator, the temperature in the church was 81 degrees with 100 percent humidity. “It was pretty soupy in there.” Someone turns off the generator at night and turns it back on in the morning.

Large floor fans helped to move the air around and assist with drying things out. “We have our own tornado going on inside,” he laughed. The day after the storm, workers temporarily sealed the roof until repairs are made.

The roof of St. Mary Church in Oxford also sustained wind damage. Some clay tiles blew off and others were lifted up but did not return to the correct position. “We are so thankful it isn’t worse,” parish office staffer Kathy Brack said.

Father Ross Epping, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Grinnell, experienced the storm up close and personal inside the rectory. Read his dramatic story here. 

Other diocesan entities reported tree damage, primarily: St. Peter Parish, Cosgrove; St. Joseph Parish, West Liberty; Regina Catholic schools in Iowa City; St. Joseph Parish in Montrose, St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and Lourdes Catholic School in Bettendorf had greatly diminished power after the storm.

Perseverance and gratitude

When John Conway, a member of St. Jo­seph Par­ish in Wellman, learned where the worst of the storm occurred, he contacted the secretary of his Model A club based in Marion, Iowa. He volunteered his services to anyone in the area in need of help. Conway has a grapple-equipped skid steer loader and chainsaws, perfect for tree removal. To date, he has assisted several families, working from Aug. 11-15 and then again on Aug. 17. He’s on call for additional help.

Driving back and forth to his volunteer assignments, he said, “It broke my heart to see how awful the cornfields looked. In my 50-plus years of farming, I have never seen this much damage to a corn crop in such a short time.”

“Doing good for the sake of doing good feels good,” he wrote in an Aug. 14 post on his Facebook page. Volunteered myself and my grapple-equipped skid steer loader and chainsaws to help someone who had none of the above and literally dozens of very large trees down in their yard.” He didn’t get the job done that day, but later. “The folks were complete strangers when I drove into their yard, but we are good friends now.”

Monica Harter made a presentation on marital spirituality and prayer without her husband Lynn during a virtual marriage preparation program Aug. 15. “My husband is in Cedar Rapids. He’s a power lineman,” Monica ex­plained to her virtual audience of six young couples. Lynn works 17 hours a day, seven days a week restoring power to homes and businesses thrown into the dark by the ferocious derecho storm Aug. 10. He expects to continue that demanding schedule for another couple of weeks, she said. She asked for prayers for her husband, his coworkers, and all the people affected by the storm.

Cheryl Costello of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire listed tree removers and power linemen among the people and things for which she is grateful in her Aug. 16 Facebook post. “I will no longer wonder why MidAmerican guys sit in their trucks. I now know they’re waiting for the tree guys and don’t want to abandon the folks waiting to turn on their light(s), their presence represents a beacon of hope. I now have increased appreciation for the power pulsing through the lines to my house, respect for the force of the wind and am humbled by the weight of one tree.”

Roseanne Wisor, a member of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Lost Nation, wasn’t able to make it to her Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting Aug. 15, sending this email as explanation:

“We are still helping folks with their cleanup, especially family in rural Cedar Rapids with no power. Please keep all these folks in your prayers. It’s hard to believe until you actually see it. I live in Lowden and most are still waiting for power, etc. I have never experienced such kindness toward neighbors. We didn’t get much damage but everyone is helping out. This is a good example of living the Gospel.”

Later, she told The Catholic Messenger that she had just returned from her sister’s home in Van Horne where Wisor and other helpers cleaned up downed trees. “Again, that was living the Gospel,” she said. “Here in Lowden I was so touched by the folks sharing generators so all wasn’t lost and they could experience the joy of a warm shower or food in their refrigerators. We don’t realize how blessed we are until we are without the small things.”

Storm-related information/resources

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds asks Iowa residents of counties impacted by the recent severe weather to report damage to help local and state officials better understand the damage sustained. Report damage to property, roads, utilities and other storm-related information. The Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will collect the information and share it with local emergency management agencies.

Please visit the Iowa Department of Human Services’ Disaster Assistance Programs web page as a resource It contains information on Food Replacement Assistance, and the Case Management and Disaster Behavioral Health Response Team. For information on the Disaster Case Management Program, contact your local community action association or visit

Storm victims may qualify for funding assistance to recoup the cost of home repair, personal property repair/replacement or cleanup. Visit the website or call Community Action of Eastern Iowa at (563) 324-3236.

Another resource to visit for information about food assistance is the River Bend Foodbank. Find the locations served by visiting the website

Prayer after the storm

(Deacon Dan Freeman of St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass wrote this prayer, with inspiration from the Holy Spirit.)

O Lord, our Almighty Father. Maker of heaven and earth; sun, moon, and stars; wind, water, and life. We cry out to you, O Lord, to rescue us from this destruction that has blown upon us. Our crops are shredded, our buildings damaged, and our lives are uprooted. We know not where to turn for help, as all seems lost and long suffering we await your help.

Send us your Holy Spirit, Lord, to remind us that you are still with us. You stood beside us and held us as we witnessed the terrible devastation of derecho to our worldly lives. Now help us realize that you are in the tiny whispering sound that fills our heart with hope and strength to bear all things that you might be glorified.

Open our eyes to see the loving embrace that neighbor shares with neighbor to lessen the desolation. Let our ears hear of the gentle and kind deeds done in your name, Lord. Let our hands offer aid and comfort as we lift each other up to you O Lord. Let our lips give you praise for our lives and opportunity to serve our neighbor through your grace. Let our hearts overflow with thanksgiving for the outpouring generosity of the women and men who have come to our aid.

And Lord, help us to understand that it’s not the challenges we face that are important. It’s how we respond to those challenges. You asked us to follow you Lord. Help us to follow you in meeting every challenge we face, with faith in your love, mercy, and salvation.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen



(Lindsay Steele contributed to this article.)

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