Did You Hear The One About Iowa Getting Hit By A Hurricane?
It may sound like the start of a joke, but Iowans aren't laughing. You would think that a hurricane in the midwest would be a prominent national news story. With a few exceptions, it hasn’t been. If you don’t live here and don’t know what I am talking about, I can certainly understand why. Let me offer you my own Unique Perspective on the devastating derecho of 2020:
Over the last couple of decades, Unique Sports has had the privilege of helping ensure that 1000s of coaches and athletes across the United States are equipped with the training aids and facility equipment they need. We are also grateful that parents and players have continually trusted Unique when purchasing equipment for their homes.
In Iowa, those coaches, players, and families are suffering.
On Monday, August 10th, 2020, parts of Iowa were devastated by a “derecho,” an intense, widespread, and fast-moving thunderstorm with incredible winds. Just two miles from my house, recorded winds of 112 MPH ripped through the small town of Midway. Winds of that magnitude are equivalent to a potent category two, or low category three hurricane.
My hometown of Cedar Rapids was the state’s hardest-hit city. We are no strangers to natural disasters. In 2008, Cedar Rapids garnered considerable national attention when unprecedented flooding put 10 square miles of our city underwater as the river that runs through our downtown crested 19 feet above the flood stage.
That monumental flood impacted 7,198 properties, including 5,390 houses, and dislocated more than 18,000 residents. The damage caused by the 2008 floods and tornadoes in Iowa is considered the sixth-largest FEMA disaster declaration based on estimated financial public assistance. This is worse. Much worse.
The floods of 2008 had a devastating impact on nearly 15% of our city, but this storm touched 100% of it—all 72 square miles. But the damage isn’t limited to Cedar Rapids.
The derecho was born in Nebraska and pummeled our state from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. After wreaking havoc on the Hawkeye state, the derecho moved into Illinois, and on to parts of Indiana.
Tens of thousands of trees are down, landing on homes, tearing down power lines, and blocking off roads. There have been hundreds of thousands of people without power. Hot and humid weather conditions are making a back-breaking cleanup effort an even more exhausting job. There are people living in tents outside of their condemned apartments. There are refrigerators and freezers full of spoiled food. People can’t cook a warm meal, and they don’t have the ability to keep perishable food cold.
Businesses and homes have had their roofs ripped off. There are entire buildings reduced to rubble. Semi-trailers remain flipped over or in ditches where they were blown off highways. In some areas, mobile phones have been rendered useless (or limited at best). Food staples at the grocery stores are scarce. Over 40% of Iowa’s crops have suffered damage. Restaurants and businesses already struggling to survive the pandemic’s impacts have been dealt yet another crushing blow.
Our high school and college athletic facilities, and youth sports fields have fared no better.
As I drive through the streets of my home town, there are hundreds of basketball hoops shattered on tree littered driveways. Soccer goals blown into cornfields. Batting cages with shredded netting waiving in the wind. Training facilities left without roofs. Scoreboards and outfield walls flattened against the ground. Bleachers and benches strewn across flooded playing fields. Contents of equipment sheds spilling out on to the ground and on to roads. Pieces of ceiling and insulation floating in indoor pools. Fairways completely covered with debris to the point you can't see the grass or the green.
In Cedar Rapids alone, every building in the school district has suffered considerable water and/or structural damage. Nearly all the athletic fields have been impacted. There are similar reports from dozens of districts in the surrounding areas, and I fear that number will be in the hundreds in the upcoming weeks. Many of you are likely familiar with Perfect Game. They are recognized as the industry leader in the showcasing and scouting of the nation’s top high school-age baseball talent.
They are headquartered in Cedar Rapids, and their facility was hit hard. The winds peeled the roof off, leaving the cages exposed. The waterlogged turf, damaged screens, and torn cage netting attest to the ferocity of the storm. A short distance from Perfect Game is the ImOn Ice Arena, where games are played by the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders, a tier 1 junior ice hockey team playing in the East Division of the USHL.
The facility, also used locally for recreational skating and other community events, is missing a significant portion of its roof...and a wall.
Just across the parking lot from the ice arena is Veterans Memorial Stadium, the home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, a minor league class A affiliate of the Twins. The majority of the outfield fence is missing, and ad boards surround a large light tower resting in the middle of centerfield.
At Mt. Mercy College, where our very own Brady Donohue pitches for the Mustangs, high winds from the derecho damaged several outdoor facilities at the Plaster Athletic Complex. Soccer goals, outfield fences, and track equipment all sustained damage.
Former NFL and Hawkeye kicker Nate Kaeding pitched in to help clear debris at Coe College. While the athletic facilities only suffered minor damage, the majority of the freshmen already on Coe’s campus are athletes from outside of the area, and find themselves in the dark, with a limited network of local friends and family to call on.
This is just my town. One town out of 950 in Iowa. Over 14 hours, the derecho traveled 770 miles with winds averaging from 80 - 110MPH. There will be similar stories from many, MANY more midwest communities. To say this lack of national coverage concerns me would be an understatement.
The devastation is overwhelming. So many athletic facilities and youth sports programs across the midwest have suffered losses and require assistance. We need to shine a spotlight on the damage and ensure that people know how big a toll this storm has taken on our communities. We need to spread the word to our peers across the country and seek their support.
But we aren’t waiting for help. We aren’t waiting for anything. Iowans have taken it upon themselves to do anything and everything they can to ensure their neighbors are safe and have access to a warm meal, a cool drink, or a place to do laundry. There is always someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. The sounds of chainsaws and generators fill the streets as whole neighborhoods pull together to help one another. If you listen close enough, you might even hear some laughter as people try to lift the spirits of their friends and family. “Iowa nice” has been on full display, despite the hardship.
In 1986, Mr. Rodgers shared this famous anecdote: “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Here in Iowa, we don’t have to look very hard. The helpers are everywhere. Watching how Iowans are helping Iowans in this trying time provides us with the strength and hope we need to push on.
Zach Johnson is one of those helpers. The Masters champion has partnered with the city government in his hometown of Cedar Rapids to help provide meals during the cleanup and recovery.
“Our hearts go out to everyone in the Cedar Rapids area. The pictures are devastating and so widespread. With the advice of the City Manager and others in the community, we feel the most positive impact we can have is to provide meals to those in need until the power and infrastructure of the City is restored.” posted Johnson.
This "on-the-go" meal program has been made possible through Zach's foundation, the City of Cedar Rapids, Southern Soul Barbeque out of St. Simons Island, GA, and Operation BBQ Relief. Sponsors of the meal sites include World Class Industries of Hiawatha, Elmcrest Country Club, and other anonymous donors.
This is the kind of teamwork that sets an example for us all.
It is in that spirit, I want to strongly encourage athletes and coaches from across the country to take notice, and I challenge you: Please reach out to your peers in Iowa to see what YOU can do to help.
We also want every Iowa (and IL, WI, or NE) youth coach, athletic director, facility manager, parent, and player to know: WE ARE HERE TO HELP!
If you feel WE can be of assistance, please reach out to us via social media or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call us at (800) 297-0747. If you feel that YOU can be of assistance, PLEASE contact any one of the 1000s of organizations in Iowa who could use it.
Please share this, and help spread the word! Make the #IowaDerecho hashtag trend. This disaster has not gotten the attention it deserves. The more people we make aware of the situation, the more help Iowa communities will receive.
- Jeffrey Kiley