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Opinion The derecho’s devastation will be felt in Iowa for months. Where is the disaster aid?

Damaged grain bins on Aug. 11 in Luther, Iowa. (Daniel Acker/Getty Images)

Devin Boerm, a government-relations executive in D.C., grew up on a farm near Tama-Toledo, Iowa.

“I’m getting tired of this.” This was the message my mother’s husband wanted to communicate when we spoke recently by phone. “This” referred to their 10th day without power.

My mother and her husband live in my hometown of Tama-Toledo, Iowa, population 4,500, about 45 miles west of Cedar Rapids. On Aug. 10, Tama-Toledo was hit by a monstrous “derecho” that brought straight-line winds equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane, coupled with fierce rains (and even stronger winds to other areas). But unlike a hurricane, there was no warning the storm was coming. The devastation it left behind was epic.

Some early estimates suggest that the storm caused nearly $4 billion in damage. More than 600,000 homes and businesses were left in the dark. More than 8,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged. Tama-Toledo’s lights went out, and an estimated 500 homes were damaged. Once the area finally gets assistance and the scope of the disaster becomes clearer, these numbers are likely to rise.

My mom’s husband is a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange. Without electricity, he has relied on one of my brothers to drive over to the house and charge the oxygen machine that provides the air he needs to stay alive. One of my best friends from childhood got a call to drive 2,000 miles from Los Angeles to check on her retired mother, whose house was buried under trees, debris, rubble and blown-out glass. Without working phones or electricity, she couldn’t be reached. Fellow residents are checking on their elderly neighbors because their relatives can’t get to them. Migrant workers, essential to the local economy, had their housing ripped apart, leaving them at the mercy of bureaucracies that can’t find places for them to sleep at night. The middle school where I spent my awkward tween years is a pile of bricks.

When I spoke to the city clerk, she said their needs are straightforward: water, chain saws to cut through the debris and people to run the chain saws. Manpower and support will be needed for months to come.

Given the scope of the disaster, news of it has reached astonishingly few eyes and ears outside of Iowa. But our fellow Americans should care — especially our political leadership.

While the brunt of the suffering will be borne by Iowans, the effects of the catastrophe will be felt nationwide. Iowa puts more pork, eggs, corn and commercial red meat into the U.S. economy than any other state. It is second in the nation for soybean production. Iowa exports more than $15 billion a year in agricultural commodities, exceeding the output of every other state except California, which is nearly three times Iowa’s size.

The derecho cut a nearly 50-mile-wide gash across some of America’s most productive farmland. Crops lie ruined; livestock are dead; farm equipment has been obliterated; grain bins are mangled. With an estimated 14 million acres destroyed, the state’s harvest is expected to be 17 percent smaller than customary — a significant decline.

This is a blow to the national economy in addition to my family and friends. Already, farmers had been suffering collateral damage from the trade wars and political battles of the past few years. And contrary to popular belief, farmers aren’t dummies. They miss nothing. I should know; I was raised by one. Now, I own that farm with my brothers. It’s not lost on us that the state and federal governments have done next to nothing to help in our time of overwhelming need.

Disaster declarations have been too slow, and too many counties still await the federal designations that would allow them to receive crucial assistance. So far, President Trump has approved only $45 million of an aid request in the billions. He did make a one-hour airport visit to urban Cedar Rapids, where he wore shiny shoes and didn’t step in any dirt. All of this has been little comfort to rural Iowans such as those in my home county, which voted for Trump and Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) — as well as our largely absent Republican senators, Charles E. Grassley and Joni Ernst — in their most recent elections.

The people of rural eastern Iowa are, in their hearts, Midwesterners. They’re a proud and stubborn lot and help one another out. But the scope of this disaster is enormous, and they cannot fix what is broken on their own. Only two nonprofit groups are aiding my hometown in cleanup and recovery, and we could certainly use more support in the form of volunteers and donations from our fellow Americans. We also need state and federal resources. Most important, we need to know that, as we try to rebound from disaster, our elected officials haven’t abandoned us.

Watch Opinions videos:

In Brooklyn, Frank Mena takes care of his grandmother and elderly neighbors — an informal network of support that rests heavily on millions of adult children. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Frank Mena/Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Irwin Redlener: Disaster season is upon us. The pandemic changes everything.

Art Cullen: A plague of errors has put our entire Iowa county at risk

Rebecca R. Rubin and Sam Bleicher: Climate change, like the coronavirus, requires hard choices and leadership

José Andrés: Our people are hungry. We need a leader who will feed them.

Jennifer Rubin: If Republicans are struggling in Iowa, they are in deep trouble

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