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On August 10, 2020, Iowa experienced a wind storm that caused billions of dollars of damage. Known as a Derecho, it was the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane. Straight-line winds of 112 MPH were recorded at the Cedar Rapids airport. The wind was sustained at over 90 MPH for 20 minutes. The extreme wind part of the event lasted approximately 1 hour, with light rain for another hour after that.

Damage was extensive for a path 40 miles north-south and 700 miles east-west. Power lines down, trees down, buildings that had walls and roofs torn off. Windshields were broken out of vehicles. Gravel was blown off driveways. Some houses had wet basements due to sump pumps not working from the power outage.

The electrical system sustained massive damage, not only to the small distribution lines, but also to the large transmission lines. Many houses had the weather-head and meter socket ripped right off the house. Large lines fell like dominos. My local electric cooperative has 37 substations, 36 were down.

The first 24 hours were difficult. Roads were blocked. The electrical grid was completely down. Communication had stopped. Local TV and radio stations were offline. We didn’t know how big the affected area was. Information came in chunks as neighbors talked to each other. Gasoline and food was impossible to get – you had to drive outside the affected area to get them. There were supplies at hardware stores in the area, but without power, they couldn’t sell anything. Gas stations couldn’t pump fuel. The fuel wholesale distributors were overwhelmed with requests to fill large fuel barrels in addition to servicing all the generators that they had contracts with.

The cellular networks were completely offline. Cell towers had either been physically damaged, or had their fiber back-bone connections severed. Towers that were still operational were severely overloaded and slow. The system appeared to be dropping calls at 2 minutes in order to allow some level of communication for first responders. On day 3 the phones started to be somewhat useful again, but the network was still overloaded and slow. Text messages were often running 6 hours late. On day 6, there are still locations where phone calls are working but data isn’t.

You need to be in the mindset that you’re in this alone. Help will be coming, but it takes days to mobilize. For the first 2-3 days, you’re on your own. Don’t get injured. Don’t sit around and expect others to do everything for you. Prioritize what needs to get done. Food, water, shelter are top priorities. Get roof and window repairs done first. Next you need access to the roads to access fuel, supplies, emergency services, utility trucks, etc. Get your driveway opened up. Down trees look terrible, but are a low priority. They’ll still be broken tomorrow.

Safety - a lot of people that have no business running a chainsaw or working with electrical parts will be doing those things. Safety is something you need to be extra mindful off. 911 services were unavailable at times. More injuries occurred during the cleanup than during the storm itself. Examples of injuries that occurred are chainsaw injuries, carbon monoxide in a house, structure fires, burns from using gasoline to start a brush fire.

If you have family that is driving in to help clean up, those people can be used to bring in needed supplies. They need to treat the location as if it were the Alaska wilderness. Bring everything they need with them. Full tank of fuel in the vehicle, all the food they’re going to eat and a way to cook it, bottled water, etc.

Here’s a list of what supplies were in demand. These are the things you would want to have on hand prior to a disaster.

Electrical: Generators. 5 gallon gas cans with gas. Drop cords. NEMA L14-30 twist-lock plugs and 10 gauge wire to connect generator to house. Split-bolts for reconnecting tri-plex overhead wires.

Tree clearing: Chain saws, extra chains, bar oil, 2 cycle motor oil and gas. A location to pile and burn trees. Note that battery powered chain saws were not very useful since it was difficult to recharge batteries. Gas powered saws were preferred. Ear plugs, safety glasses, chainsaw chaps. Having 1-2 gallons of bar oil on hand, per saw, would have been ideal. We resorted to using 80wt gear oil mixed with a bit of motor oil to thin it out.

House repair: Tarps, plastic sheeting, shingles, 2x4s, plywood.

Personal: Flash light. Leather gloves. Cell phone charging cable for car or a neighbor’s house. Jugs of water for washing hands, etc. clean clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.

Food: Bottled water. Hamburgers, hot dogs, brat, buns. Canned goods. Portable food such as bagles, beef sticks, single serving jello, etc. Everyone was cooking with a grill. Very handy to have a gas grill at home. Ice – people without a generator were using ice to keep food cold.

Heavy equipment - A skid loader with grapple is an invaluable tool. Loader with a 4-in-1 bucket, excavator with a thumb. Man lift for safely reaching branches on roofs or branches stuck in trees. Dump trailer or dump truck to haul trees.

Last updated: August 26, 2020

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