“Same As It Ever Was”: The Iowa Derecho of 2020 and the National Awareness


Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was

Refrain from “Once in a Lifetime”, Talking Heads (1981)

One week ago, August 10, 2020, a devastating derecho ripped through the states of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, claiming four lives, destroying homes, and turning communities upside down. This was the ninth derecho event in America since 2019. This year, there were seven derechos prior to last week’s derecho that covered nearly 800 miles within a 16 hour period.

The impact hit Iowa the hardest. One of the hardest hit areas in Iowa specifically was the city of Cedar Rapids. The carnage the derecho inflicted on Cedar Rapids was severe and frightening.

Last week’s derecho has raised questions about how little attention it has received by the national media. In the midst of the novel Coronavirus pandemic, racial anger spilling over, and an election, a weather event is often a blip on the screen, unless a hurricane is barreling down on the gulf coast states.

But last week’s derecho wasn’t just a blip on the national landscape. The frustration on the lack of awareness of the derecho hit a peak level when KCRG-TV anchor Beth Malicki posted this thread on Twitter:

Malicki’s thread struck a nerve. I understood her sentiment. I felt the same way a decade ago. In June 2008, storms pounded Iowa without mercy. Cedar Rapids endured historic flooding that took years to recover from. The derecho of August 10th, was another catastrophic blow to the city. During the coverage of the Cedar Rapids floods, I noticed major media sources were not mentioning and reporting on the flood damage that had occurred.

The national coverage of the 2008 floods didn’t pick up traction until a week later. I wanted to air my complaint, but would national media care to hear from a no-name guy from Iowa on what the hell was going on Cedar Rapids? I thought about what I wanted to say, and I started to craft an email. I picked out Steve Czaban to send the email to. Czaban is a nationally known sports radio show host who his weekday afternoon show on The Team 980 in Washington and weekday mornings on 97.3 The Game in Milwaukee. Czaban is a host that I respect for his uncanny insights and perspective as it relate to sports and pop culture.

Here are excerpts of the email from 2008.

Hey Czabe,

I know that things have been very busy in the world of sports . I was writing tonight because I am interested to know how come not much have been said from the sports world about the floods we have endured here in Iowa.  We’re not New Orleans by any means, but if the attention was given to New Orleans because an entire city (275,000) was under water, then I guess the same can be said about an entire state (2 million Iowans) fighting off floods and dodging tornadoes at the same time.  We’re not alone.  The entire Midwest is being belted. 

New Orleans didn’t have a plan. City and state officials didn’t communicate and gather accurate information, which resulted in the inability and major mistakes being made on all levels with Katrina.  To this day, New Orleans hasn’t learned or have taken the time to look at what changes can be made so that they would be ready if another hurricane hit town. 

It’s interesting to me that when I look at what we’re dealing with and New Orleans, there is plenty of differences.  For one, the big advantage for us is that Iowa went through this before in 1993.  We took the lessons we learned and put a plan together, in the event if it happened again. 

New Orleans expected the federal government to save them, clean up, and rebuild their city.  Iowa is not going to sit and wait for someone else to help us, nor are we complaining about it.  We know that federal help will be on its way.  But for the time being, Iowans stick together.  No pointing fingers, losing patience, and looking for excuses. 

No celebrity has offered to donate money or hold a telethon for us, and I have yet to see Sean Penn motoring along in a boat.  You know what?  That’s okay, because they would only get in the way of us sandbagging and fortifying levees. 

A little love from the sports world wouldn’t hurt.  It will give us an extra pep in our step as we start cleaning up and helping our neighbors. 

Image Courtesy: Washington Post

Fast forward to 2020. Things have changed. Social media has amplified the lack of leadership and response to natural disasters, pandemics, etc. We have more avenues to bring awareness to what is happening in our backyards. However, the mindset is still the same: “we get knocked down, we get back up.” Though it would be nice for the rest of the country to see the heartbreaking and horrific damage the derecho has caused, we’re not banging the drums to get attention for self serving reasons. We want everyone to know that something bad happened here in Iowa. We need resources, manpower, whatever is needed to help those who have lost homes, businesses, and their livelihoods.

Historically, Iowa has been known to lend support to others in different parts of the country. In my view, that support has not been reciprocated to Iowa and the Midwest in most cases.

The tone deafness from some members of the national media was glaring.

The local media has been gutted, reshuffled, and turned upside down by corporate pirates and the pandemic. Some are working on a shoestring budgets, reporters forced to take unpaid furloughs, and some had to add extra work on their plate to pitch in.

For a national writer to say that there was no “local news” to cover the derecho, is asinine and displays a level of contempt towards local media that are not in major markets. National media is now picking up on the coverage of the damage and the impact.

Local news were the first on the scene.

Does this derecho that hit three states need to be in the national media space? Yes. Do I care much about the attention? Not really. I feel the national media gets in the way and attempts to create a narrative that doesn’t accurately tell the news appropriately. That’s my opinion. You can take that and do what you want with that statement.

Beth Malicki used her platform as an anchor and social media to bring national awareness of what the derecho has done to Cedar Rapids and other parts of the state. I respect her actions and concern. She has more clout that I ever will, regardless if it’s 2008 or today.

The attention to the Iowa derecho is about to be supplanted supplanted by wildfires in California and Colorado, and two potential hurricanes aiming towards the gulf coast states.

When it comes to a part of the country that doesn’t get attention outside of a caucus, the line “same as it ever was” comes to mind. We can do all we can to bring attention to what’s going on in Iowa, we will get people to notice, but then they’re attention span moves on to something else.

Same as it ever was.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s