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Winter Storm An Added Challenge For Iowans Still Rebuilding From Derecho

A woman pulls her child in a sled through the snow in Brooklyn.
Brendan McDermid/Reuters/Landov
A woman pulls her child in a sled through the snow in Brooklyn, NY, last week. This week, parts of Iowa were buried under 10 or more inches of snow.

This week’s winter storm dumped upwards of 10 inches of snow on some Iowa communities. That’s been an added challenge for Iowans still repairing damage to their homes from last fall’s derecho.

Cedar Rapids resident Olivia Mikarovski still has a tarp on her roof from last August’s derecho, which hit with little notice and pounded eastern Iowa with hurricane-force winds. Despite her best efforts, she still hasn’t been able to completely seal off the house.

“There is still water coming in the kitchen when it rains,” she said.

In the months since the storm, Mikarovski says several contractors have told her they would do the needed repairs, before backing out.

“I’ve had several people tell me that they will do my roof for me and we can work it out some way or another. But nobody’s come to do it,” she said.

She’s now getting help from a local non-profit and a new contractor who seems “promising” and may be able to get the work done once the snow melts. In the meantime, Mikarovski is hoping the tarp holds.

“I’m kind of stuck in between a rock and a hard place right now. But as usual, I’ll get through it,” she said. “It just snowed yesterday, so I mean as far as I can tell, it’s holding.”

Service providers have said the aftermath of the derecho, compounded by the coronavirus crisis, has led to an affordable housing shortage and pushed many Iowans even closer to homelessness, including families who were staying in damaged buildings that are now no longer livable due to winter weather.

“We have families sometimes that call us that have been sleeping in their cars and are just now reaching out for services. Post-derecho, a lot of individuals were staying in their condemned units or their units that were no longer habitable,” J’nae Peterman told IPR earlier this month. She serves as the Director of Housing and Homeless Services for Waypoint Services, a Cedar Rapids-based service provider.

Families tried to stay in their units as long as they could, Peterman said, before the weather began to turn and ultimately forced them out. That’s added even more pressure on area shelters, which are “at their max capacity," she said.

Due to coronavirus concerns, some individuals are choosing to move in with other families or into hotels if they’re able, rather than opting for a communal shelter setting.

In the absence of more robust protections for renters, more Iowans are slipping into a cycle of homelessness as the pandemic continues to rage and the economic recovery lags, Peterman said.

“We’re definitely seeing the population grow of the individuals who have never had to seek services before,” Peterman said. Between COVID and the derecho, “the level of need has exploded."

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter