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Iowans Are Trying To Recover From Widespread Devastation From Derecho

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tens of thousands of people in Iowa are still without power. It's been more than a week after a devastating derecho storm hit the region. Most of those still without power are in Cedar Rapids, the city that experienced the storm's worst damage. Democratic Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer represents the city and the outlying areas, and she joins us now to talk about the lingering effects of the storm.

Welcome.

ABBY FINKENAUER: Well, thank you so much, Ailsa.

CHANG: Can you give me a sense - I mean, you live in Cedar Rapids. I know that you've been out throughout the community. What does it look like there? Can you just give us a sense of what the storm's left behind?

FINKENAUER: Yeah. So just to put this in perspective for folks, the winds that came through parts of Cedar Rapids - they have now reported they think it was about 140 mph winds, which is a Category 4 hurricane that came through our metro area. And what you're talking about, then, is these trees that are, some of them, 200 years old, 150 years old in neighborhoods that were completely uprooted and landing on houses, landing on power lines - which is why we have no power - landing on cars, you name it - apartment complexes with no roof left.

CHANG: So the entire city of Cedar Rapids is still without power.

FINKENAUER: Well, no, no, no. The - so parts of the city have gotten power back. The utility companies have been working their tails off having folks all over the country coming in. Unfortunately, I think there's still about 20% of the city of Cedar Rapids that still does not have it yet.

CHANG: What about you and your home? Do you have power?

FINKENAUER: No, we still do not. Yeah, our neighborhood - there are still branches hanging down from power lines over 10 days later, and it is going to be a long road here. And it's why the resources are needed here - because the longer we go without power, the more folks that either need generators, need ice, need a place to stay to be able to keep their insulin cold or their Coumadin cold or be able to use their CPAP machines.

I mean, the medical needs here are very high. And it's why, you know, we've been trying to draw attention to this and explain to people as well that with a hurricane, you typically have a few days to be able to prepare, to know you might go without electricity, to get the medication you need. This was not the case with this storm. Most folks - you know, if they weren't watching TV, they maybe heard it when the - a siren went off 10 minutes before.

CHANG: Right - absolutely no warning.

FINKENAUER: And it's just devastating.

CHANG: On top of all that chaos, on top of all that disorder in the first several days, how has the pandemic complicated recovery efforts?

FINKENAUER: Yes. So in the midst of all of this, we've needed shelters. And there were very few buildings to use because there was so much damage. And the number of beds then being able to put in shelters is about cut in half because of much-needed COVID restrictions to keep people safe. But that also means we have to get creative of where folks can go and also even food distribution, making sure that that's safe. It has added a whole nother (ph) level for folks who desperately needed help in those first few days.

CHANG: Now, the president has approved part of the governor's request for disaster aid, but he has not yet approved aid to individuals. So how could that affect recovery efforts, you think?

FINKENAUER: Yeah. This is a huge piece of it. Actually, our team - it was Monday after he had tweeted out that he had approved the full request. We actually saw the document come through and saw the individual, homeowners - all that actually was not approved at all. So the thing with that assistance is there's so many things tied up in that, like Small Business Administration being able to help out. And so there's just so much that goes into it.

And when you're talking about the individual and homeowners, if you're on the ground here in Cedar Rapids or across the district and you're seeing, I mean, again, folks displaced - the disaster here is just widespread. And it is just going to be a really long road. And people need to have all of the resources that we know as the federal government should be available to our folks here. And it's just so important that we get that done.

CHANG: Democratic Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer of Iowa, thank you very much. And best of luck to you and to Cedar Rapids right now.

FINKENAUER: Thank you. We will take all the luck we can get and then continue to work hard for everybody here. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate you highlighting this. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.