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A hidden disaster


It is indeed fair to say that this should be getting a lot more coverage than it is:

On Monday, Iowa was leveled by what amounted to a level-two hurricane. But you wouldn’t know that from reading, listening to or watching the news.

While the storm did garner some coverage, mostly via wire stories, its impact remains underreported days later. The dispatches, focused on crop damage and electrical outages, have been shouted down by the coverage of the veepstakes and the fate of college football. Conservatives’ consternation over the new Cardi B single has gotten more attention than the Iowans left without power or food for what may be weeks. And all this, as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc throughout the state.

Iowa’s last disaster, breathlessly covered by the media, was the caucuses. After that, everyone moved out. The dearth of coverage means we are struggling here, and no one knows.


A quarter of a million Iowans are still without power. In Linn County, where I live, 79 percent of people are without power, still, three days after the disaster. Cell service is spotty, where it exists. The few gas stations and grocery stores with power only take cash. And good luck getting cash from your bank, which is most likely closed. Even if you have the money, lines snake around the gas stations, two hours long or more, and the grocery stores are chaos. A citywide curfew exists. You can see the Milky Way from the darkened downtown.

My friend Ben Kaplan, a local photographer and videographer, described the situation this way: “There is no trash pickup. There are one hundred thousand fridges of rotting food. There are raccoons. There is no escape from the heat, except to run out of town to look for basic supplies in an air-conditioned car. Downtown, bricks and glass litter the sidewalks. Plate glass windows shattered during the storm. Many businesses have been physically destroyed. All restaurants lost all of their perishables. Factories are closed. Offices are closed. The economy — the whole thing — is stopped.” All of the destruction is compounded by complications from the pandemic, which make cleanup, charging stations and distributing meals all the more difficult.

As Lenz says, there are numerous factors here — the decimation of local newsrooms, the provincialism of national media outlets, the sociopathy of Republican public officials, etc. But the lack of both media attention and a federal response is troubling indeed.

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