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News / Nation & World

More bad weather could hit Iowa where 3 powerful tornadoes caused millions in damage

By HANNAH FINGERHUT and MARGERY A. BECK, Associated Press
Published: May 23, 2024, 1:55pm
3 Photos
Tornado damaged property is seen, Wednesday, May 22, 2024, in Greenfield, Iowa.
Tornado damaged property is seen, Wednesday, May 22, 2024, in Greenfield, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Photo Gallery

GREENFIELD, Iowa (AP) — One of the three powerful tornados that tore across Iowa this week left no property untouched along a mile-long path through the small city of Greenfield, Iowa, littering the way with remnants of splintered homes, smashed vehicles and shredded trees that once lined leafy streets.

On either side of this swath, picturesque homes and lawns seem untouched, and one might be hard-pressed to believe that a twister spinning at more than 136 mph (219 kph) ravaged the community of 2,000, killing four people and injuring at least 35.

At least 202 homes were destroyed by a series of tornadoes that raked the state on Tuesday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday at a news conference. Most were in and around Greenfield. The count does not include businesses or other buildings destroyed or damaged, like Greenfield’s 25-bed hospital.

The havoc spun by the tornado now shows on the faces of people still processing how quickly homes and lives were shattered. Kimberly Ergish, who was combing through the debris field that had been their home with her husband, described how she grabbed her children and ran for the basement when the tornado sirens sounded.

“It got really quiet and then really loud and then everything was gone,” she said. “It was like 10 seconds of just pure terror and it felt like it lasted a lifetime.”

The governor praised FEMA’s response on Thursday as she sought a disaster declaration for multiple counties. After surveying Tuesday’s destruction, the National Weather Service determined that three separate powerful tornados carved paths totaling 130 miles across Iowa, according to Donna Dubberke, the meteorologist in charge in Des Moines.

It took just one minute for one of them to cut a path a mile (1.6 kilometers) long through Greenfield, Dubberke said. The town’s center square and neighborhoods outside the tornado’s path were spared.

Colton Newbury, 24, was working in Des Moines when the twister hit, nearly 60 miles (97 kilometers) away from his wife and 10-month-old daughter at their home in Greenfield.

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He rushed back only to find their home was “a hole in the ground,” he said. His wife hadn’t heard the sirens. Newbury’s cousin ran out to get his wife and baby, and they rode out the tornado in the cousin’s basement, Newbury said. The winds pulled entire homes away, he said: “About every house on the block, just foundations left.”

Still more severe weather was moving across the Midwest. The weather service’s Storm Prediction Center shows an enhanced severe storm risk late Thursday into Friday morning for much of Nebraska and western Iowa, including areas where tornadoes hit Iowa and hurricane-force winds, large hail and torrential rain flooded streets and basements in Nebraska.

This latest band of severe weather — including possible tornadoes — will hit Iowa “when people are sleeping,” warned NWS meteorologist Andrew Ansorge of Des Moines.

“A lot of these people have already experienced damage to their homes and property that might be hit again with rain and wind. Because of the damage already there, it won’t take much wind to inflict even more damage on these homes,” Ansorge said. “It’s just a bad deal all the way around.”

More severe weather also could hit Saturday and Sunday in storm-damaged parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. An emergency was declared in Temple, Texas, after powerful storms ripped through the city of more than 90,000. Thousands lost power, Thursday’s classes were canceled and nearby Fort Cavazos reported debris blocking traffic at the Army installation.

Before Tuesday’s twister in Greenfield, this year’s deadliest tornado was the one that killed three people in Logan County, Ohio on March 14. The Greenfield tornado set a new grim record as it obliterated homes and crumpled massive power-producing wind turbines outside the city.

The twister was initially rated at least an EF-3, but investigators could deem it even more powerful after a full ground survey.

It was so destructive that it took authorities more than a day to account for the area’s residents, and Iowa’s Department of Public Safety said the number of injured is likely even higher. Officials haven’t yet released the names of the Greenfield victims.

A fifth person was killed Tuesday about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Greenfield when her car was blown off the road in a tornado, according to the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. Monica Zamarron, 46, died in the crash Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

Reynolds has requested an expedited presidential disaster declaration for those Iowa counties that sustained significant damage. EMA Administrator Deanne Criswell joined her at the news conference in Greenfield and said that her agency will process the request as quickly as possible to get resources — which could include funding for temporary housing — to those left without homes.

This is a historically busy tornado season in the U.S., in an era when climate change is heightening the severity of storms around the world. April had the country’s second-highest number of tornadoes on record.

Through Tuesday, 859 tornadoes had been confirmed this year, 27% more than the U.S. sees on average, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Iowa has so far recorded the most, with 81 confirmed twisters.

Debris from the Greenfield tornado was lifted thousands of feet into the air. Some of it has been found several counties away. About 90 miles (145 kilometers) away, in Ames, Iowa, Nicole Banner found a yellowed page declaring “This Book is the Property of the Greenfield Community School District” stuck to her garage door.

Greenfield’s 25-bed hospital was so damaged that at least a dozen injured people had to be taken elsewhere, and hospital officials have said the facility will remain closed — possibly for months — while repairs are made. An urgent care clinic was set up at the elementary school, with primary care services to start there Thursday.

Roseann Freeland had waited until the last minute to rush with her husband to a concrete room in their basement. Seconds after the twister passed, they opened the door “and you could just see daylight,” Freeland said. “I just lost it. I just totally lost it.”

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