On Monday, August 10th, 2020 the entire Meskwaki Settlement went dark without adequate warning as a massive storm carrying rain and hurricane-force winds of up to 130 mph pummeled the area. The system, later classified as a “derecho” wind storm, damaged more than 200 homes on the Settlement, destroyed utility lines, and downed trees by the thousands. In all, over 550,000 Iowa homes lost power including every home on the Meskwaki Settlement. It was a historic disaster that the people in the wake of this storm will remember forever. (Pictures can be found in the September edition of the Meskwaki Nation Times.)
As straight-line winds toppled trees and power lines across the impact areas, in total 10 million acres of crops were damaged (about 43% total) across the state. Parts of Interstate 35 and 380, as well as, Highway 18 and 69 were impassable or closed entirely for hours. The impact area, which included the entire Settlement, went dark as emergency procedures where instituted throughout.
As the winds calmed and rains stopped, major impacts were felt by the Tribe due to home damage, facility damage, loss of power and gas, damage to roadways and infrastructure, and loss of communication services. Family homes and many facility buildings sustained roof and siding damage from wind, flying debris, blown out windows, and downed trees. Power lines and gas leaks caused evacuations for life safety to the extent that families were forced to seek alternate housing. Telecommunications (cell phones, land lines, and WIFI) were disconnected to most of the area, as cell towers were damage and phone/internet lines ripped apart during the storm.
After the eminent danger was over, the Meskwaki Emergency Plan was put into effect. As public safety was of utmost importance, the MNPD and EMS sought out to assess for injured community members and the Public Works Department called in additional staff to begin clearing debris from roadways. Emergency personnel assessed for downed power lines, gas leaks, and emergency repair needs to homes and facilities.
“The storm was the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane or a 40-mile wide tornado that rolled over 100 miles of the state,” said Roxane Warnell, Meskwaki Nation Emergency Response Coordinator. “Our first response was to assess for public safety and life safety. Non-essential employees were sent home and our front-line workers from Public Works, Housing, Apprenticeship, Police, Health Clinic, EMS, Meskwaki Inc., MBCH, and the Emergency Response Team, along with many, many volunteers, stepped up to assist. We thank everyone for their support.”
One of our greatest tribal assets, the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel, took the lead in helping ensure member’s safety. During the first few nights after the storm, 140+ rooms were provided to needed community members. Because the casino is supported by generators, the Emergency Management Team was also able to set up its command center in the conference center during the first few days after the disaster.
Additionally, food distributions began each evening by MBCH personnel in the form of grab-and-go cooked meals delivered curb-side due to COVID-19 safety concerns. The camping area was also opened to allow for campers. Throughout the disaster, community members gathered at the casino to cool off, acquire food, and utilize WIFI services. Casino personnel were key to supporting members while power remained out to many Tribal houses for days after the storm. We thank them for their earnest support.
The Meskwaki Tribal Council met the day after the storm and approved an application be sent to FEMA to request that the President provide an Emergency Declaration for the Settlement. They approved Meskwaki Natural Resources Department to spearhead that response. We thank MNR for their continued work in seeing that both federal and individual assistance is approved from the president.
Ketebi to Public Works, Apprenticeship, and the Housing Department for their selfless efforts, working 12+ hour days to ensure that roads were cleared, temporary signage was installed, houses were boarded up and water tight, and emergency utility repairs were made. Their leadership was integral to the emergency response that occurred during the days following the storm.
Supports to our fuel supply were supplied by Meskwaki Inc., who worked with Tribal Operations to procure generators for the Travel Plaza and Tribal Center. Thank you to Apprenticeship’s Electricians for quick installation of both. Additionally, Red Earth Gardens, MFSI, Hemp, and MNR Departments stepped up to ensure agricultural infrastructures, our buffalo herd, and field crops were assessed and cared for.
In the days following the storm, Senior Services continued to deliver its normal meal delivery to our elders, checking on their safety and providing for their needs. Other team members stepped up to provide lunches to volunteer service workers and helped ensure our elders were taken care of. The Meskwaki Health Services team including the Health Clinic, Pharmacy, and Mental Health Services also remained open. Although phone services were unavailable for the first four days, the team was able to meet the health needs/concerns in the community. Their support was greatly needed and appreciated.
Despite the communication outage rampant throughout the area, the emergency management team worked diligently to provide information to community members through text notifications and website/social media posts. Eventually, emergency workers walked door-to-door hand delivering informational flyers and assessing damage to more than 340 houses on the Settlement. We thank them for helping in this way.
By Wednesday, August 26th, sixteen days later, all but three houses on the Settlement had power restored; but much work is needed to completely restore and repair Tribal houses and facilities. As insurance adjusters and outside contractors begin repair assessments, residents are reminded to take care and be safe around the remaining debris and temporarily repaired areas of their homes. Tribal Operations will be working over the next few months to complete final repairs on houses and will finish removing the large trees and debris strewn about. We thank everyone for their continued support and understanding as team members work diligently to clear and repair.
Executive Director Lawrence Spottedbird stated, “The outpouring of generosity from our friends and neighbors was heartwarming, as was the response of the community who sprang to action with neighbors helping neighbors clear debris from driveways, food prep, and clean-up of storm damage. Although we understand how frustrating it was for everyone needing assistance, we faced these challenges together. With supplies and resources limited, the patience and understand of the people in need must be commended. Well done, staff and community members. It was great to see everyone coming together to get things accomplished.”
Assistance to residents in the form of food and volunteer help/donations began immediately following the storm. We thank everyone for the outpouring of support including:
• Sac and Fox Tribe of Oklahoma for a $10,000 monetary donation.
• Burr Oak Trust for 56 man hours of tree removal labor, frozen venison and other meats, plus monetary donations in the amount of $3783.
• The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation who brought many volunteers from Kansas and worked feverously for DAYS to help with tree damage to the Bear Clan O-te-ni-ka-ni and residential homes.
• Iowa Beef for donating 1000 frozen beef patties and buns.
• NEIA Food Bank for donating 10 pallets of non-perishable food.
• A Family Market Place for donating and distributing produce to families.
• Rosebud Sioux Tribe for 20 cases of Gatorade.
• One Star Family of Two Strike from South Dakota who donated 27 cases of water and 2 large coolers to disaster recovery efforts on behalf of their Sister, Mother, Grand Mother Regina Mercedes One Star.
• An anonymous donor who covered 8 nights hotel stay to families.
• Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer who visited the Settlement and called on the president to approve disaster aid for us.
• The American Indian Council for approving a $9.50 per hour stipend for 10 volunteers to assist with recovery efforts for up to 160 hours each.
• Family members and neighbors who cooked food and housed people during the power outage.
• Neighbors helping neighbors to clear driveways and yard ways across the Settlement.
• If your donation is not mentioned yet, updates are on-going. We thank everyone for their support and are humbled by so many acts of kindness coming in daily!
Residents of the Settlement lost many things from their homes during the storm including food stores due to the power outage, broken patio furniture, damage to vehicles, water damage to carpets, furniture, etc., etc., the list goes on and on. Members are asked to contact their insurance companies to help pay to recover damaged personal belongings.
Households who currently receive Food Assistance (SNAP) may request replacement of food destroyed as a result of the recent storm damage, or spoilage as a result of a power outage. Those who do not qualify for the state’s Food Assistance program may qualify for D-SNAP (Disaster SNAP) through the Iowa Dept. of Human Services They will be offering a pop-up application center for to apply. It will be hosted at the Tribal Center the week of Sept. 8 through 12 for applicants who may not typically qualify for SNAP benefits.
The Iowa Individual Disaster Assistance Grant Program (IIAGP) offers grants to families whose household’s annual income is 200% or less of the federal poverty level. Each qualifying household MAY receive up to $5,000.00.
MICA is also accepting applications for the Iowa Individual Assistance Program. Applications can be found at, https://dhs.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/470-4448.pdf…, and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are available for pick-up and drop-off at the Tama County Family Development Center located at 105 S. State St., Tama, IA.
Governor Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for Tama County including many others in response to the severe storm on August 10. The application deadline is September 25, 2020. For complete details regarding the Disaster Assistance Programs, please visit: https://dhs.iowa.gov.
Gloria Fonseca and Tamela Davenport at the Meskwaki Health Clinic are able to assist you. As always, remember they are also available to help you with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Food Stamp Assistance. To schedule an appointment or to speak with Gloria or Tamela, please call the Meskwaki Health Clinic at (641) 484-4094.
If you are in need of mental health support at this time, the Meskwaki Behavioral Health Services program offers in person and telehealth mental health and substance abuse counseling. To schedule an appointment or to touch base via phone, please call (641) 484-4094.