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The Disaster Divide, Part II: Only One Hour

10 days after a derecho leveled a Cedar Rapids apartment complex, one tenant was given only one hour to clear out his two uninhabitable units. Thankfully, help came.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — It had been 10 days since the derecho hit Cedar Rapids.  On the southwest side of town sat an apartment complex, among several of them, now left so damaged it's largely uninhabitable.

At this Shamrock Apartments, Lukeba Mbemba said he had just been told by his landlord he had one hour to move out of his family of six's two units, now teeming with mold. 

His wife and kids left the state to get to better and safer housing.  But someone had to see to everything, so Lukeba stayed behind.

Being a pastor, Lukeba had just bought a new camera online to use for church services, but that didn't survive.  With no idea what to do with all of the rest of his family's things, and only an hour to get it all out, he was stuck; a man of faith, whose hope had been crushed.

"Only one hour. They are pushing me - take your things out! Only one hour," Lukeba said. 

"If you didn’t do it in one hour, my people they come - they are going. If they break - something break - or we lose - it’s not our problem - it’s your own problem."

Lukeba and his family weren't the only ones feeling that pressure; his neighbors cited similar stories.

Alexius Miner-Hughes says her neighbor was given keys to another unit with no electrical meter, so it's pitch black inside. They showed Local 5 the apartment unit.

"[Our management wants] us to pay you rent, but you don't want to treat us accordingly," Alexius Miner-Hughes, Lukeba's neighbor, said.  "We're putting money in your pockets. Your pockets! But you can't treat your tenants correctly!"

On top of being a pastor, not unlike some of the apartment complex's other tenants, Lukeba had a second job. He got it only a month and a half before the derecho hit.  His boss had told him the day before that if he misses even one shift, he's fired.

That's when Rama Muzo, founder of the Intercultural Center of Iowa, stepped in to try and buy him more time.

This relief fund was created to support both the short and long-term needs of the African, Refugee, and Immigrant Community of Cedar Rapids impacted by Derecho. On August 10th of 2020, Iowa experienced strong wind storms known as Derecho. Our Cedar Rapids community, especially Africans, took a huge hit from this storm.

Muzo started making calls, trying to get ahold of Lukeba's boss (to no avail), setting up a storage unit for Lukeba to keep his things for the time being, and putting him up in a hotel room.

Within hours, volunteers from the Cedar Rapids Community School District and Refugee Rise - Americorps were on the scene to help move his stuff into storage.

Muzo's non-profit covered the cost of the storage unit, and Lukeba didn't have to worry about a cent of it.  Lukeba was put in a hotel.

"I feel so very, very happy in my heart," Lukeba said.  "Very, very happy."

Lukeba didn't make it to work that day.  But even not knowing the status of his job or where he would be sleeping in a week, as he got the keys to his hotel room, his eyes were heavy, but his heart was full.

Lukeba's employer did end up firing him for missing his shift that day, according to Rama, but it didn't take him long to find a new one at the Nordstrom in Cedar Rapids.

When at Shamrock, Local 5 spoke with the apartment manager who declined to comment. Recently, we reached out again and have heard no reply.

Learn more about the Intercultural Center of Iowa and how you can support them at this link. 

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