When we found out we were moving to Nebraska, the part I was most excited for was being so close to my family again. After this year especially, it just felt right to be closer to home during these uncertain times. However, we never could have guessed the crazy events that would happen just one week after moving back to the Midwest. Before sharing this post, I want to say that we were not affected and did not personally experience the terror of the derecho in Eastern Iowa on August 10. If you’re interested in reading something from the perspective of someone who did, my dad wrote about their experience on his blog, which you can read here!
The morning of Monday, August 10, 2020, Curtis and I received text notifications of severe thunderstorms in the area. We looked outside our hotel window and saw nothing but blue skies. A half hour later, Curtis took Charlotte outside and noticed the skies had turned — there were now ominous clouds passing quickly above us. However, if there was a thunderstorm, it must have stayed North of the Omaha area, because we didn’t get much more than a little rain.
A few hours later, my mom texted and asked if we had a storm. I said no, and asked if they did. She replied that it was there right now — the tornado sirens went off, they were in the basement, the power went out, and there were trees falling all around. After the storm passed, they started sending me pictures of the yard. They live on a wooded acre lot, and in the pictures we could see there were at least 10 trees down. Eventually they stopped texting me, I assumed they were out cleaning up. Curtis and I briefly discussed driving to Iowa and helping, but his parents had plans to come see us in Omaha later that week, and we weren’t sure if the military would be okay with us leaving our ‘quarantine’ for the last few days.
The next morning, (Tuesday the 11) I texted my mom first thing and asked how they were doing. I didn’t hear back all morning, and I was getting concerned. I remembered she said they lost power, so maybe it still hadn’t come back and maybe their phones were dead. I started seeing more pictures pop up on Facebook from friends in Eastern Iowa, and we were beginning to see how widespread and devastating the damage really was. This wasn’t just a tornado which affects only what lies in its path, this was a derecho, or an inland hurricane with 120+ mph winds. I texted the rest of my family, waiting anxiously to hear if they were alright.
I heard first from my brother at Iowa State University in Ames — he was fine, though still without power. Later, I heard from my sister who lives on the SE side of Cedar Rapids. She told me they just had a few smashed windows, but there were trees and power lines down all around their neighborhood. They were also without power, and cell service was spotty.
Around that time, Curtis’ dad texted Curtis and asked if we’d be able to meet them in Cedar Rapids. They don’t live in Iowa anymore, but they had plenty of friends that needed help and they planned to camp in someone’s yard. Since we didn’t have a place for them to stay with us in Omaha, it kind of made more sense to just go see them there while also helping. My sister told me we could stay with her in case it didn’t work out at my parent’s. And so it was decided — we would leave the next morning (Wednesday) and stay until Saturday, which would still give us time to move into our apartment before Curtis started work on Monday.
I was still so anxious as we went out and ran some errands. I hadn’t heard anything from my family. Were they doing ok? Would we actually be any help? Curtis picked up a chainsaw and all the necessary accessories, things that would surely be in high demand in Eastern Iowa now. We ran to Aldi and picked up food that we could cook on our camp stove, assuming that power could be out the entire time we were there. Finally, we picked up gas cans and filled them up after hearing that there were hour-long waits at the few gas stations that were open.
I finally heard back from my dad when he went to his office. They had no power, water, or cell service, and had at least 15 big mature trees down. At his request, we picked up another chainsaw and more supplies, and then filled all our water containers. We were all ready to go.
Pictures taken by my dad after the storm
The next day we set off for Cedar Rapids bright and early — even taking (almost) the most direct route! We made sure to fill up on gas around Des Moines so we wouldn’t have to get any in Cedar Rapids. While driving on I-80, we first started seeing some fallen trees by the interstate East of Des Moines. By the time we were around Grinnell, we started seeing portions of cornfields that had been blown flat. Having heard that I-380 was busier than normal, we decided to jog up to US-30. We drove through the town of Belle Plaine, and started to see how devastating this was on a personal level for each of the residents — there were huge trees down in almost every yard.
Driving on US-30 was a real shock. Entire cornfields lay flattened by the wind. Power lines bent over, some even split in half, not by falling trees but by the sheer power of the wind. Silos and barns destroyed, trees fallen, street signs missing, semi trucks overturned, tarps on roofs. We almost missed our exit because the sign was bent clear over. Driving through Cedar Rapids, stop lights were out, trees that I had grown up always seeing were gone. The pictures I had seen online didn’t do it justice, and didn’t prepare me for seeing my city all torn apart. They certainly didn’t prepare me for how I’d feel driving into my neighborhood, and seeing my family’s house.
When we arrived, there were two things that were very clear: God’s hand of protection was very visible as we saw how their house had been spared, and also, there was definitely going to be enough to keep us busy!
Pictures while working by Julie
We spent the next 2 ½ days at my parent’s, with Curtis, my dad, and Curtis’ dad on chainsaws and my mom, sisters, Curtis’ mom and I hauling branches to the ditch, making piles of firewood, and cleaning. On Thursday evening, the power came back on for about 2 hours, and then another few hours on Friday morning. It finally came back for good right before we left on Saturday. Their water came back on Friday.
Progress pictures of the backyard
I’m so glad they were all home and safe when the storm hit, and for God’s protection over them. Their yard, along with the rest of Cedar Rapids, won’t ever look quite the same without those trees. I had hoped that now that we live so close, goodbyes wouldn’t be so hard, but that just wasn’t the case this time. Knowing what they had gone through and that there was so much more work ahead of them made leaving so hard. But I’m thankful that we now live so close and are able to be there when stuff like this happens.
This certainly wasn’t the reunion we planned to have, but I’m thankful we were able to share this experience and grow closer through it. We said goodbye for now on Saturday morning and drove the 4 short hours back to Omaha, where we finally moved into our apartment. Thankfully this time it won’t be over a year before we see them again!