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A week after devastating wind storm, Iowa faces ‘humanitarian crisis’

Editor's note: KCRG anchor Beth Malicki said in this interview that the Federal Emergency Management Agency called her station for information about the refugee community affected by the derecho, after it was unable to reach Cedar Rapids city officials. After the NewsHour's interview with Malicki aired, FEMA sent KCRG a statement saying it had not attempted to reach city officials.

A full week after hurricane-force winds barreled through the Midwest, Iowa is just beginning to recover. More attention and assistance are starting to flow into the Hawkeye State, but homeowners, farmers and businesses have suffered a devastating hit. John Yang reports and talks to Beth Malicki, an anchor at KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids, about the situation on the ground and the government response.

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  • Stephanie Sy:

    Iowa is still just beginning to recover from one of the worst wind storms to hit the state and several others in the Midwest.

    As John Yang tells us, more attention and help is starting to come to the Hawkeye State, but many homeowners, farmers and businesses have taken a devastating hit.

  • John Yang:

    A full week after a powerful storm barreled through the Midwest with hurricane-force winds, many in the hardest-hit state of Iowa are still reeling.

    The straight-line wind storm, known as a derecho, claimed at least three lives in Iowa and severely damaged or destroyed roughly 8,200 homes.

  • Kelly McMahon:

    It feels like I'm in a Third World nation. Like, this, to me, seems as if it's our version of Katrina, minus the deaths.

  • John Yang:

    Kelly McMahon volunteered to help out after the storm ripped through a Cedar Rapids apartment complex that was home to refugees from African and Pacific island nations.

  • Kelly McMahon:

    This is people living in apartments with no roofs, no front walls, the fronts of the patios off, wires just hanging down. Where in the world is our government helping us out?

  • John Yang:

    Most don't speak English, complicating their efforts to get help.

  • Woman:

    We have people who don't have houses. And we're not talking about one, two, three. We're talking about hundreds of families that will probably be sleeping in their cars.

  • John Yang:

    Cedar Rapids' City Manager Jeff Pomeranz defended the city's response.

  • Jeff Pomeranz:

    This is an unprecedented disaster that's affected our entire community, lots of people impacted. Some of the residents who have been displaced, we have got council members working around the clock trying to make sure those residents have a place to go.

  • John Yang:

    The storm toppled scores of trees, taking down power lines and cutting electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes across Iowa. Tens of thousands were still in the dark today. Millions of acres of Iowa farmland were flattened, with corn and soybean crops hit the hardest.

    Before leaving the White House this morning, President Trump approved Iowa officials' request for nearly $4 billion in federal disaster aid.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We approved the emergency declaration for Iowa, so they're in very good shape. They're working as we speak. Also, FEMA is in Iowa now full force and helping them greatly.

  • John Yang:

    About 100 Iowa National Guard troops are clearing debris from downed power lines, as electricity is restored to residents who've been without it for a week.

    White House officials say President Trump is likely to go to Iowa tomorrow to see the damage.

    Beth Malicki is an anchor at KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids. And she joins us now.

    Beth, thanks so much for being with us.

  • Beth Malicki:

    Sure. Thank you.

  • John Yang:

    As you move around the community, as you report this story, the recovery from this storm, what do you hear, what are people telling you is their biggest need right now?

  • Beth Malicki:

    Humanitarian aid, the basics, shelter, food, water, ice to keep insulin cold. They're not asking for new bridges, new roads, rebuild everything. Those things will come at some point, but, right now, this is a humanitarian crisis.

  • John Yang:

    And you say they need the basics. It's been a week, as we said in the taped piece, since this all happened. How are people reacting to the pace of aid, or lack of aid?

  • Beth Malicki:

    They're outraged. That's an understatement. They're tearful.

    They're — you know, Iowans don't like to rely on others. They like to be independent. But this is so overwhelming and it's so widespread. And there seems to just be this lack of urgency in covering it — you being the exception, thank you — and getting things in place.

    It's so desperate that people from nearby communities that weren't as hard-hit are coming in and going door to door to check on people. We have found people who have been stuck in their homes, a man in his wheelchair, an elderly couple in their 90s.

    That's not our job as media. We really just shine a light. We're not supposed to be emergency responders or really advocates of anything but the truth.

  • John Yang:

    Earlier, in a news conference today with city officials, you said that people at FEMA, some government officials are calling your newsroom to try to figure out where help is needed.

  • Beth Malicki:

    That happened last night.

    They couldn't get through to anybody at the city to find these people and give them help. These folks were living outside in makeshift tents. And some of them are still living inside their homes that were missing roofs and walls with exposed wires — there's no power coming in anyway — and nails and children.

    And this is a community in this particular apartment complex that is predominantly people who came here as refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Micronesia. And these people need translators. They're terrified. They don't even — they don't know where to go to get help, whereas somebody like me — and I have storm damage, but that doesn't matter — but I know how to connect.

    These folks are living in imagery that is — it's unimaginable to be happening in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the United States of America.

  • John Yang:

    You say that people are outraged over the pace of the relief.

    Who is the target of the outrage? Who are they taking this out on? Who are they angry at?

  • Beth Malicki:

    It's really at the decision-makers, who they feel did not move quickly and effectively enough at all levels.

  • John Yang:

    Local, state, federal?

  • Beth Malicki:

    Yes, all of the above.

  • John Yang:

    Farming, of course, such an important industry in Iowa. How have they been affected by this storm?

  • Beth Malicki:

    Some farmers have been flat-out wiped out. We're talking 10 million acres of farmland that is damaged or destroyed, as well as corn cribs and silos that were holding corn.

    That just — they blew over, and the corn spilled out. Now, they can pick up some of the corn, but that is nothing compared to what was in the land. That cannot be redeemed.

  • John Yang:

    Iowa, of course, is not immune to weather problems. And you have had big flooding problems. How is this, the reaction and the recovery, pace of recovery, and response to this, compared to previous natural disasters?

  • Beth Malicki:

    I was here in the flood of 2008.

    And, at the time, it was so overwhelming. You're hearing some repeating themes here. But we led the national news that night, and we were in the spotlight. And people were reaching out. And we had trucks and trucks of support from the nonprofit side. And they're here, too. But it took a long time for those national agencies to even notice this was happening.

    It's not that they didn't care. They didn't know. Also, with the flood, you have a little bit of lead time. In 2008, the water started rising, things were problematic, and they peaked about five days later.

    This derecho, we had two hours' warning, two hours. A man died in Iowa because he was riding his bike and a tree fell on him. We have a child who's 8 years old in intensive care because, immediately following, her dad was trying to remove trees, and she was crushed by one.

    We were so not ready. And that isn't our fault. There's no warning system that exists for this kind of storm.

  • John Yang:

    A very difficult situation. Thanks for giving us — filling us in on the details, Beth Malicki at KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

    Thanks, Beth.

  • Beth Malicki:

    Thank you, John.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Iowans desperate for attention and help.

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