By Linda Fischer, Volunteer Disaster Recovery Coalition Public Information Officer
As the first anniversary of one of the worst natural disasters to occur in our area, the Benton County Disaster Recovery Coalition continues to assist people impacted by the August 10, 2020 derecho. The Coalition, made up of service agency representatives and volunteers meets almost every week on Thursday mornings to address any cases for families or farms needing assistance, and plan for future activities.
This disaster has been a challenge for the organization for several reasons. According to Scott Hansen, Benton County Emergency Management Director, “Lack of a working communication system after the Derecho made this past disaster a challenge. The greatest concern immediately following the disaster was getting resources to people that needed them.”
In addition, the widespread impact of the disaster on geographic area in the county has involved many communities and more people than past disasters, making it a bigger challenge for the county. It also was a federally declared disaster and many cases went through FEMA first. Working with FEMA was slower than usual since Covid-19 impacted how cases were handled compared to the flood disaster in 2008. In addition, there were negotiations and appeals with insurance companies. One of the biggest challenges for some folks was finding a contractor and building materials to do repairs to damaged homes and buildings.
Anyone needing financial assistance recovering from the disaster should contact the Coalition at phone: 319-241-5121 to request an application. Funds are available to help anyone who still may have expenses incurred from the derecho that are not covered by other sources. To date over 50 families and farms have been helped by the Coalition.
Moving forward the Coalition is planning volunteer cleanup days for anyone still needing help cleaning up tree debris from the derecho. Cleanup days are being organized for the end of August through September. Anyone needing volunteers to help cleanup trees should contact Linda Klopping, Van Horne City Clerk at 319-228-8238.
United Way of East Central is hiring a Community Resource and Volunteer Engagement Specialist for Benton County who will work to assist with organizing volunteer clean up efforts. Katherine Hines of Atkins will begin her duties in the near future coordinating upcoming cleanup days for communities and rural areas of Benton County.
This disaster also demonstrated a need for more volunteers in our county and community. The Coalition will be hosting a training for anyone who would like to volunteer to respond in the event of future disasters. Disaster volunteerism training is being organized for September 9, 2021, from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. Participants can choose to attend either virtually or in-person. For more information visit the Benton County Disaster Recovery Coalition’s Facebook page or call United Way of East Central Iowa at: 319-398-5372.
Each disaster is a learning experience, but with more volunteers in each of our communities we will be better able to respond to disasters. The goal is to have several volunteers from each community trained along with volunteers from the rural areas.