The Butler County Emergency Management Coordinator says it could be several years before the area fully recovers from the severe weather that hit this spring and summer. Steve Ulrich says emergency personnel did a good job responding to the EF5 tornado on May 25th and massive, county-wide flooding a few weeks later. However, he says no one was truly prepared for the storms.
"There’s no way that you’re going to be able to deal with this kind of devastation and prepare for it," Ulrich said. "Just the tornado by itself was bad enough, then when you add flooding on top of that…it just magnified everything."
In the storm’s aftermath, more than 40 emergency management coordinators from around Iowa arrived in Butler County to help with the clean up. Ulrich was busy thanking those individuals this week at the Governor’s Homeland Security Conference in Des Moines. Ulrich says Butler County set up an Emergency Operations Center in the courthouse in Allison about three years ago. He’s encouraging other counties to pursue an EOC if they don’t already have one.
A number of smaller counties in Iowa don’t have an EOC, primarily because of financial or space limitations or officials don’t believe there’s a need. Ulrich says the EOC in Butler County was critical in helping him and others communicate with rescue personnel, local residents and state officials.
Hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses in Parkersburg and New Hartford were either destroyed or damaged in the storms. Ulrich says they’re still welcoming volunteers to help with the rebuilding effort in those towns – but the need has shifted in recent weeks.
"Now, we’re being more focused on what volunteers we’re looking for," Ulrich said. "We’re looking for those groups that can come in and do framing on a house, or they can do dry wall work or painting or mucking out basements. We’re trying to find those groups and get them to the right areas of the county." Ulrich says most people in the county that lost their homes are staying with friends or relatives, while around a dozen folks are living in trailers provided by FEMA.