Thousands Of Iowans Are Still Homeless, Let’s Not Argue About The Word “Derecho”

Brianna Provenzano
·4 min read

Iowa residents are still reeling nearly a week after a powerful storm system tore through the state, leveling millions of acres of farmland and leaving mass power outages in its wake. On Sunday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds filed an expedited presidential major disaster declaration with the federal government in an effort to recoup nearly $4 billion in estimated damages, which was later signed by President Donald Trump. In addition to downed infrastructure, at least three people were killed in the storm.

“From cities to farms, Iowans are hurting, many still have challenges with shelter, food, and power,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Resilience is in our DNA, but we’re going to need a strong and timely federal response to support recovery efforts.”

According to Reynolds, the powerful storm system, which whipped through the state with hurricane-force winds of about 100 miles per hour, wrecked an estimated 8,200 homes and destroyed about a third of Iowa’s corn crop, the equivalent of about 13 million acres. “With rapid approval, this declaration will provide a significant level of federal resources to support the state and local response,” Reynolds added. “While it is unconventional for a major disaster declaration request of this magnitude to be assembled and approved within a matter of days, it is essential that our request is expedited and approved as quickly as possible.”

Derecho, the Spanish word for “straight,” is so-named for the straight-line winds which, in the case of last week’s storm, downed power lines and damaged infrastructure so extensively that an estimated 75,000 Iowan are still without power, even a week later. But even as Iowa residents grapple with historic levels of destruction, widespread power and internet outages and shortages of clean drinking water and emergency supplies, national news coverage has been near-non existent, and some residents have bemoaned the lackluster response from elected officials.

On Twitter, meteorologists who dared to hector their followers about the storm’s proper nomenclature received an earful from Iowans furious about the relative lack of national attention the storm had garnered. “A derecho is not a land hurricane! Pass it along,” tweeted Tevin Wooten, a meteorologist with The Weather Channel alongside the “Meryl Streep yelling” meme. Wooten’s tweet then spurred a larger conversation about describing the technicalities of the disaster and why this cannot be swept away in semantics alone.

“Iowans are struggling to get basic needs — some oxygen tanks refilled, or insulin,” one woman named Katy Brown tweeted in response alongside photos of the widespread destruction. “Food, water, electricity, phone/internet access are inaccessible. But by all means, @TevinWooten, use your influence + position of power to make fun of 27 counties in distress.”

Brown points out the truly alarming conditions Iowans are currently facing: The governor finally requested aid from Trump only a week after many have been left without homes, without working water, and without the most basic needs, all the while receiving little to no national attention.

“Along with trying to educate on semantics, you could use your platform to show the devastation of the #Derecho in #Iowa Iowans have already been failed by the media,” another person named Nikki wrote on Twitter.

Despite the scientific differences, officials have used the word “hurricane” when discussing the derecho as an easy reference point to describe an unprecedented weather event the likes of which has not been seen in the Midwest in modern memory. “This is a disaster that we have never seen before,” U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, a Democrat who represents Cedar Rapids in Congress, told USA Today. “It is something that was essentially like a hurricane coming through the Midwest.”

Derecho, hurricane, or otherwise, the devastation caused by the storm is widespread, and will likely take months to repair. But the hardest hurdle to clear will likely be in the short-term: According to the Sunrise Movement’s Cedar Rapids outpost, in addition to being without power and water, the intense summer heat has been enough to force some without air conditioning to sleep outside in tents. Maybe, at least until the dust settles, it’s best to keep the Twitter jokes to a minimum?

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