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FEMA Approves Individual Assistance For 10 More Iowa Counties Hit By Derecho

Scores of volunteers and neighbors helped Iowans dig out of their homes after the derecho. This worker is suspended over a home in Belle Plaine.
Courtesy: Stephen Beck
Scores of volunteers and neighbors helped Iowans dig out of their homes after the derecho. This worker is suspended over a home in Belle Plaine.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved individual assistance for an additional 10 Iowa counties, in the wake of the rare and powerful derecho storm that hit the state with little notice on August 10.

Affected residents in Benton, Boone, Cedar, Jasper, Marshall, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Story and Tama counties can now apply for the aid, which local officials say as sorely needed.

The funds can help with home repairs, transitional housing costs, personal property replacement, medical and funeral costs.

Stephen Beck, city administrator for Belle Plaine in southwest Benton County, told IPR that individual assistance for rural residents in the wake of the storm, especially the rural poor, would “change their lives."

The announcement comes nearly two weeks after FEMA signed off on individual assistance for hard-hit Linn County, and more than three weeks after the storm battered the state.

The delay had raised doubts among some local officials and residents in rural Iowa whether they, too, would get the aid.

“The people that live in Benton County are just as good as the people that live in Linn County,” Belle Plaine resident Bonnie Rieck told IPR last week.

In the wake of the storm, and in the absence of a more official response, the 83-year-old had taken it upon herself to go door to door delivering food to her neighbors, many of whom are single, elderly and suffering from medical conditions that limit their mobility.

Some criticized state and federal officials for what they saw as an inadequate response in the wake of the historic disaster, which destroyed homes and left thousands in the dark for days, unsure where they would find their next meal.

In the days after the derecho, some rural and urban Iowans resorted to sleeping outside in tents amid the wreckage of the homes.

“The federal government is going to fail this area. They're going to fail rural Iowa,” Beck told IPR last week. “I hope I'm wrong. I really hope I'm wrong.”

State and federal officials praised the decision from the Trump Administration.

“Thank you @POTUS and your team @fema for approving this critical assistance for Iowans for continued recovery efforts following #derecho2020!” Gov. Kim Reynolds tweeted.

She has repeatedly lauded the president for acting “quickly” to respond to the disaster. Speaking at the nationally televised Republican National Convention last week, she said Trump “showed up” for Iowa, though at that point he had only approved a fraction of her request.

Initially, Reynolds had requested federal support for a total of 27 counties. When Trump did visit the state, he met briefly with officials in a conference room and never left the airport.

In a joint statement, Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley said they would keep pushing for more assistance for the state.

“Iowans have been hit hard by the recent derecho; we’ve heard their stories and seen the damage to homes, crops, businesses, and communities firsthand. We’ve been working with Governor Reynolds and the administration to get federal assistance to the state, and today more Iowans have that support available to them,” reads the statement.

“This doesn’t mean our work is done. We’ll continue fighting to make sure Iowans who have been affected are getting the help they need to recover from these devastating storms,” the statement continues.

Rep. Abby Finkenauer also thanked the agency for providing more aid, which she said is “essential” to Iowans’ recovery.

"I commend FEMA for doing the right thing and extending aid to individuals and households across central and eastern Iowa who were affected by this devastating storm," Finkenauer said in a written statement.

Finkenauer pledged to continue pressing the Trump administration to approve aid for the rest of the affected area.

As of Tuesday, FEMA has approved individual assistance for 11 counties. The agency has determined that 16 counties were ineligible for the aid. Nine of those counties withdrew their requests before a final decision was made.

So far, a total of 16 counties have qualified for public assistance, which can assist local governments with repairing public buildings, public utilities and hauling storm debris, as well as provide assistance to certain nonprofits.

Reynolds said damage assessments are still being validated in an additional eight counties, and public assistance will likely be requested for those counties as well in the coming days.

Residents can apply for federal assistance at disasterassistance.gov.

Public assistance available:
Benton, Boone, Cedar, Clinton, Dallas, Jasper, Johnson, Jones, Linn, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Story, Tama

Public assistance will likely be requested:
Greene, Grundy, Guthrie, Hardin, Iowa, Jackson, Keokuk, Washington

Individual assistance available:
Benton, Boone, Cedar, Jasper, Linn, Marshall, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Story, Tama

Damage determined to be insufficient to qualify for individual assistance:
Audubon, Cass, Clarke, Clinton, Dallas, Greene, Grundy, Guthrie, Hardin, Iowa, Jackson, Johnson, Jones, Madison, Muscatine, Washington

Counties that withdrew their request for eligibility for individual assistance:
Audubon, Clarke, Grundy, Iowa, Jackson, Jones, Madison, Muscatine, Washington.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter