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Thousands In Iowa Cope With Aftermath Of Major Storm

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Thousands of Iowans are trying to cope with the aftermath of a storm that pummeled the state last Monday. It was the equivalent of a major hurricane scouring the prairie. Hundred-mile-an-hour winds flattened corn and soybean crops and damaged grain elevators and leveled banks, churches and homes. Power and communications are cut around the state. We're joined now by Tyler Olson, the city council member from Cedar Rapids. Mr. Olson, thanks so much for being with us.

TYLER OLSON: Thanks for having me. Good morning.

SIMON: Sir, what do you see in this place you know so well? Help us understand what happened.

OLSON: Well, you described it well as far as the extent of the storm - hundreds of square miles flattened, including about 75 square miles of my city, Cedar Rapids, which for some perspective is similar to the size of Cincinnati, Ohio. The devastation is widespread. It's intense. Block after block of houses - everyone with some amount of damage, trees piled 6 to 10 feet high along the road. It's like walking through a tunnel of green with some fluorescent orange of placarded houses - doors that are unsafe to enter - where the city itself has been working hard to get roads cleared. So that has taken place in many parts of the city. But we're still without power. The majority of our citizens are without power.

SIMON: What do you need, Council Member Olson? I gather that Governor Reynolds was in Cedar Rapids yesterday.

OLSON: Yes, she was. The next step for us is getting a presidential disaster declaration declared. We're hopeful that Governor Reynolds will forward that soon and that President Trump will act quickly. We need electricity. The utility is here. And the National Guard arrived a couple of days ago to assist the utility with getting power back on. But we have citizens without food, without medicine. And we're working as hard as we can as a city to meet those needs. But we really need the federal government and their resources.

SIMON: Where are people sleeping, eating, getting by?

OLSON: Well, many people are sleeping in their homes if they're habitable. They're obviously very hot. It's hot and humid here in the summer. We do have people sleeping in tents in their yards, and people have - some people have left or have moved into hotels. So it's a mix, you know, but, again, those are some federal resources that we really could use.

SIMON: And, of course, this disaster occurs in the middle of a pandemic. That must complicate things.

OLSON: It really does. It would take a lot to get the pandemic out of - at least out of the top spot in the news. But this has done it. But it has complicated relief efforts. It's hard to gather people together. It's hard for repair companies, insurance adjusters to go into homes. There are obviously protections that are in place because of the pandemic. And it really - you know, the city's resources, you know, were strained before in trying to deal with that. And now we're dealing with this probably historic disaster, the biggest disaster we've seen here in Cedar Rapids.

SIMON: You had an insurance adjuster at your own home this morning, I'm told.

OLSON: Yes, I did. I did. You know, we're five days in, and I spoke with him. And he's been working 18, 19, 20 hours a day, trying to get to as many houses. Yeah. I mean, it's - it really is every single house. We're trying to get trees cleared, power on. And the people that are doing the work and trying to, you know, help city staff have done a great job. But every one of their homes is affected, as well. That's how widespread the damage is.

SIMON: Tyler Olson is a city council member in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Thanks so much for being with us, and good luck to you, sir.

OLSON: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.