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Trump promises storm recovery aid to Iowa homeowners

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Donald Trump

CORRECTS FROM FLOOD DAMAGE TO DERECHO DAMAGE – Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, right, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a briefing on derecho damage and recovery efforts in Iowa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Kim Reem recounted Tuesday how the unusually powerful storm that tore through Iowa last week destroyed her Cedar Rapids home and laid waste to more than 100 large trees on her property.

During a briefing at the airport in Iowa’s second-largest city, Reem, who heads a local homeless shelter, told President Donald Trump that it would cost roughly a quarter of a million dollars to clear the trees from her land because that damage wasn’t covered by insurance — leading Trump to express surprise.

Reem said the people staying at her Mission of Hope shelter are “hungry for compassion from our leaders. Just to know our leaders care.” And she said people are generally worn down by the coronavirus pandemic that left many without work. Some had just returned to their jobs only to be idled again by the Aug. 10 storm.

“We’re strong and resilient, but Mr. President, we are tired and we need your help,” she said.

Eight days after the storm, a rare derecho, raked the state with hurricane-strength winds, thousands are still picking through the pieces of broken homes and hauling fallen trees and other debris from their properties. About 40,000 customers still don’t have power, and a group of African refugees was living in tents outside of their decimated apartment building, initially refusing to leave despite the pleas of human services workers.

Cedar Rapids, which is in eastern Iowa, was hardest hit and drew the attention of Trump, who promised to approve a request for $180 million in aid for damaged homes and infrastructure in the state. He also promised additional funding for farmers who were affected by an unusually powerful storm that tore through the state last week.

During the Tuesday briefing, local officials and homeowners spoke of the devastation to their communities, including Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly, who said up to 95% of the homes and businesses in his city of 40,000 northeast of Cedar Rapids were damaged.

On Monday, Trump signed a portion of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ disaster relief request that covers extensive debris removal and repairs to public buildings, streets and bridges in 16 counties. That portion of the request totaled about $45 million.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, however, is still assessing the governor’s individual assistance request, which includes $100 million in damage to private utilities and $82.7 million in damage to homes, according to early state estimates. In additional, farmers sustained an estimated $2.7 billion in damage to crops, grain storage and buildings, which is part of the declaration and would likely be covered under various U.S. Department of Agriculture programs. The individual assistance request covers 27 counties.

Trump indicated Monday that he had signed the state’s disaster aid request in full, but he had not approved the individual assistance, which makes up the largest portion of the $3.99 billion aid request.

Reynolds on Monday thanked Trump for his approval but didn’t acknowledge that the bulk of the state’s request was pending. The partial funding approval was later acknowledged during Tuesday’s meeting.

The governor’s spokesman didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart told Trump the individual portion is important to help homeowners remove trees, which in many cases will cost thousands of dollars ans isn’t covered by insurance. He said an estimated 60,000 homes in Cedar Rapids have some degree of damage.

“Adding the individual assistance component to the disaster declaration would really help so many people get those trees out of their yards and not have such a financial burden to them,” he said.

Reynolds pointed out to Trump that the individual assistance was part of the state’s declaration and that FEMA and the state were working on gathering the damage estimates. “We should be able to do that in a short amount of time,” she said.

FEMA spokesman Mike Cappannari said the assessment for the individual assistance portion of the declaration was underway.

“It’s not uncommon across the country for the governor to make a request for a preliminary damage assessment, public assistance and individual assistance and a portion of it is approved just to start the flow of federal resources to get that process going,” he said.

Trump assured Reynolds and others that he would get the individual aid approved.

“We’ll get it taken care of. We’ll get it done very quickly,” he said.

Concerns have been voiced since the storm that the nation hasn’t understood the extent of damage to Iowa, which Reynolds described as “basically a 40-mile-wide tornado with 112 mph winds.”

The National Weather Service said the derecho packed intermittent wind in eastern Iowa in the 110-130 mph range. That would be the strength of an EF2 tornado. The storm “destroyed or damaged numerous outbuildings, barns, grain bins, homes, mobile homes, apartment buildings, trees and power poles,” the weather service said.

“The rest of the country is starting to take note, and so we’re getting volunteers and help from around the country, and that’s really important,” Hart said.

Trump at one point turned to White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and asked if the world was aware of what happened in Iowa. She replied that it was now because he was in the state and the media had accompanied him to report on the disaster.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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