Town overwhelmed by twisters' wreckage

May 27, 2008 7:29:24 AM PDT
Fred Everts held back tears as he surveyed a pile of splintered wood and metal scraps that the day before had been his and his wife's home. Several yards away, a makeshift sign was placed amid the rubble to remind Everts and others that they were in Russell Circle, once their street.

"We have no place yet," the 85-year-old said. "We were trying to get it cleaned up and save the stuff that's precious to us."

Everts was one of hundreds of people who spent Monday picking up what was left of their lives after a tornado ripped apart a stretch of northern Iowa a day earlier, killing six people, four of them in Parkersburg and two others in nearby New Hartford. In neighboring Minnesota, a child was killed by violent weather in a suburb of St. Paul.

"You really are overwhelmed when you see it," Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said Monday after touring the Parkersburg area. "You can't imagine this kind of devastation, homes completely gone. And to see people trying to sort through their belongings is very difficult."

Rescuers continued picking through the wreckage in search of possible victims, but officials said they were hopeful no one else would be found. In addition to those killed, about 70 people were injured, including two in critical condition.

The damage in this town of about 1,000 was staggering: 222 homes destroyed, 21 businesses destroyed and more than 400 homes damaged. Among the buildings destroyed were the city hall, the high school and the town's sole grocery store and gas station.

"There's so much hurt here, I don't know where to start," said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who owns a farm near New Hartford. Warning sirens sounded early enough to give residents time to seek shelter, Parkersburg Mayor Bob Haylock said.

"Without that, we would have a tremendous amount of injuries and loss of life," Haylock said. "People were down in their basements and waiting it out."

However, Haylock said most of those killed in Parkersburg were in basements. All were adults, he said.

Diane Goodrich rode out the storm in her basement with her husband and three neighbors.

"The noise was just unbelievable," Goodrich said Monday as she searched through the ruins of her home. "Our ears were popping. We could hear trees flying over us. We could hear every piece of furniture that left the house."

The number killed initially was reported as seven but was dropped to six Monday after a better accounting of residents, said Bret Voorhees, bureau chief of Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Culver issued a disaster proclamation for four counties.

Sunday's storm followed an east-to-west path just a few miles north of the Waterloo area. It hit Parkersburg, New Hartford and then Dunkerton, about 50 miles east of Parkersburg. About 80 miles to the southwest, the Des Moines area had heavy rain and wind that gusted to 70 mph.

North of St. Paul, Minn., the tornado that struck the town of Hugo on Sunday killed 2-year-old Nathaniel Prindle and injured his young sister, Washington County officials said. The boy's father was hospitalized in stable condition, while his 4-year-old sister was in critical condition, and his mother was released after treatment, authorities said.

Marvin Miller found Nathaniel's parents, his neighbors, trapped in the debris of their home.

"They just kept screaming `My children, my children!' Miller said Monday.

The National Weather Service confirmed that the storm was a tornado. The American Red Cross said 27 homes were destroyed and 16 had major damage. Seventy-five more had minor damage.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty declared a state of emergency in Washington County, directing state agencies to help local governments as they recover from the storm, and said investigators were working to determine if the damage was significant enough trigger federal aid.

The storms came after several days of violent weather elsewhere across the nation. Storms killed at least two people Friday in Kansas, which was hit with tornadoes and hail Monday. Rural Oklahoma was battered Saturday, and another round of severe weather there on Monday produced at least one tornado in Kay County. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in either state from the latest storms.

About 100 people have been killed by U.S. twisters so far this year, the worst toll in a decade, according to the weather service, and the danger has not passed yet. Tornado season typically peaks in the spring and early summer, then again in the late fall.

---

Associated Press writer Joshua Freed in Hugo, Minn., contributed to this report.

Load Comments