Derecho recovery still in full swing two years later
Wednesday was the two-year anniversary of the derecho that ripped through Marshall County and most of the state in 2020, and though the storm left wreckage in its wake, the county is well on its way to recovery.
After Marshalltown was hit by a tornado in 2018, the 2020 derecho was especially devastating. Those natural disasters were coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, making 2020 an extremely challenging year for the community, but despite those factors, residents came together to help one another, something Marshalltown Mayor Joel Greer is still proud of today.
Greer reflected Wednesday on how different community members and organizations stepped up to the plate to provide relief to the community, and one group of Marshalltown High School graduates came to mind.
The MHS class of 1969 had already committed to pitching in to replace damaged trees after the tornado, but after the derecho hit, they redoubled their efforts and raised enough money to plant not only enough trees to replace those lost, but additional trees as well.
Recovery is far from a quick process though, so it will still take a bit of time before Marshalltown can come back greener than before.
“Trees are coming, that’s the good news. The bad news is we have to plant them over about a 10-year period, so we can stage in different varieties over different years to avoid diseases and other loss of trees in the future,” Greer said.
Greer has noticed other signs of recovery in the last two years as well, including improvements to buildings like the Lennox plant, which is completing work on its façade. The newly renovated Marshalltown Arts and Civic Center is also slated to open in the upcoming months, and given the extensive damage the building suffered during the derecho, its upcoming re-opening is a big sign of progress.
“I am absolutely proud as punch, as the mayor, to watch what our city span and nonprofits and businesses and citizens have been able to do. To get knocked down twice and get up twice,” Greer said.
Karn Gregoire, the president of the MACC’s board of trustees, remembers that day and the destruction the storm wrought well, but there’s still a silver lining. By some stroke of luck or just fortuitous timing, the building’s famous art collection had been shipped to Chicago for restoration about three and a half weeks before the derecho hit.
“It was a true blessing that the art was out of the building. The board of directors has worked extremely hard over the past two years to bring new life and meaning to the facility,” Gregoire said. “We have paid particular attention to preserving and honoring Bill and Dorothy Fisher. The new Fisher Art Museum and Fisher Art Lounge will amaze visitors and attract people from throughout the United States.”
The MACC, known as the Fisher Community Center at the time, has been closed since the derecho, but Gregoire and the board of trustees are excited to welcome the public back to the renamed facility — changed with the blessing and support of the Fisher family — with an open house on Sept. 18.
Marshall County Emergency Management Coordinator Kim Elder also looked back on the last two years and compared how the tornado and derecho affected the community so much differently.
“We all know the tornado was rough, but after the derecho hit, we realized how much rougher it could get,” Elder said. “For Marshalltown, obviously, the tornado was really hard hitting, but it didn’t affect the rest of our county. So, when we had a whole county disaster, it made it quite a bit harder to work through.”
Though the two disasters had a very different effect on the community, Elder felt that because residents had experienced a natural disaster two years prior to the derecho, they were better equipped to deal with the aftermath of the second storm.
Community members in Marshall County were more aware of the resources they had available to them and how they could begin to pick up the pieces after the derecho because they already had experience with those organizations and resources from after the tornado.
“Although we strive on a daily basis to promote preparedness, sometimes it takes that disaster or something to happen before people take that to heart, which is unfortunate but it’s true,” Elder said.
Two years later, Elder feels that a lot of progress has been made on the road to recovery, and the community is owed a lot of thanks. However, there is still plenty left to be done, especially in the Marshall County park system, which suffered major tree damage.
“In Iowa, we always help our neighbors. There’s not a lack of that, which is amazing and so helping,” Elder said. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress, but we have a lot of progress still to do. We have a lot of work to still do.”
While Elder believed recovery was on the right track, she said Marshall County is still in the early stages, and it will be a few years yet until it is truly back at full strength.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or