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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tornado winds flatten homes, down trees across Iowa

Hit hardest was the southwest Iowa town of Greenfield, where residents awoke to see much of their town flattened by a tornado that left behind fatalities and injuries which by Wednesday were yet to be tallied.

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — Volatile spring weather is the norm for Iowa, and this week the state got it all — from tornadoes to floods to hail and tree-toppling winds that knocked out power to tens of thousands of Iowans.

At one point, upwards of 50,000 customers were without power as power lines were downed by falling trees and limbs. Several giant electric-generating windmill towers were toppled by high winds or tornadoes in southwest Iowa Tuesday, some collapsing with turbines on fire. Winds were powerful enough to knock over semitrailer trucks. Classes were cancelled Wednesday at a high school in a Des Moines suburb due to storm damage.

The National Weather Service reported a score of tornado sightings on Tuesday, many of them clustered in the southwest part of the state, and as many as a half dozen other Iowa towns were damaged by high winds.

Rain saturated much of the state as successive storms swept across the state during the day. Some areas recorded close to 4 inches, prompting posting of flood watches and warnings Wednesday morning around the state. The rain was welcomed in a state recently plagued by drought, but farmers now are struggling to get corn and soybeans planted in soggy fields.

Governor Kim Reynolds declared a state of emergency in 15 Iowa counties.

Hit hardest was the southwest Iowa town of Greenfield, about an hour’s drive west of Des Moines, where the community of 2,000 residents awoke to homes, businesses and trees flattened by a tornado that left an uncounted number of fatalities and injuries.

Governor Reynolds was in Greenfield Wednesday morning to survey the damage.

“Tragic events happened across the entire state of Iowa last night,” the governor told reporters at an impromptu press conference in Greenfield Wednesday, but she praised residents and volunteers for quickly working toward recovery.  

“Once again, just to see the resiliency of Iowans they are moving forward, the cleanup that has taken place even from last night has been incredible.”

The governor was asked for her reaction to what she saw Wednesday:

 “Just gut-wrenching, just horrific,” she said, noting that only a month ago she'd witnessed much the same in the western Iowa town of Minden that was hit by a tornado.

“It’s hard to describe until you can see it, the devastation, but at the same time I can’t begin to tell you how heartwarming it is to see everybody out there helping each other. It’s heartwarming,,it’s not surprising. It’s incredible. I always say Iowa is one big community and we certainly see that in times of tragedy and we’re witnessing it again.”

The governor declined to confirm earlier reports of as many as three deaths in Greenfield until an official figure is available as search and rescue work continues. Efforts to assist those injured were hampered by damage to the hospital in Greenfield, which evacuated critical care patients by life flight helicopters to other health care facilities Tuesday night.

State Representative Ray Sorensen, a Greenfield resident, told of one volunteer — who is not an Iowan — who helped rescue a victim from the rubble of a home using his truck as a makeshift ambulance.

“Everybody became makeshift ambulances,” Sorensen said.

“We pulled a guy from the rubble and put him on a makeshift stretcher, threw him into the back of a truck,” he said, and then brought him to a lumber yard that was being used as a temporary triage and emergency treatment site.

“There’s incredible common sense on this community,” Sorensen said.

The other good news: Historic buildings on Greenfield’s town square, including the 1891 Adair County Courthouse and the 1896 opera house, were spared by Tuesday’s storm.

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Categories / Environment, Regional, Weather

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