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More severe weather forecast in Midwest as Iowa residents clean up tornado damage

By HANNAH FINGERHUT and MARGERY A. BECK, HANNAH FINGERHUT and MARGERY A. BECK, Associated Press
Published: May 24, 2024, 9:44am

GREENFIELD, Iowa (AP) — Storms downed trees and power lines in Iowa early Friday, days after a destructive tornado ripped apart more than 100 homes in one small town, took the lives of four residents and injured at least 35 more.

The National Weather Service’s Quad Cities office in Davenport Iowa, warned Friday morning that people should be ready to shift plans and expect the rapid onset of thunderstorms as a fast-moving line of storms moved east through eastern Iowa and Illinois. The storms brought the threat of large hail and damaging winds with the possibility of embedded tornadoes in the region. More than 50,000 customers were in the dark in Iowa on Friday morning, according to poweroutage.us.

In Oklahoma, a tornado was on the ground for about an hour Thursday evening in Jackson County and neighboring counties as a slow-moving storm moved through, according to Ryan Bunker, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Norman, Oklahoma, office. A survey team was headed to the area Friday morning and was expected to have more details in the afternoon, he said. News outlets reported downed power lines and outages and damage to some structures in the area.

Along a mile-long path of the tornado in Greenfield, Iowa, on Thursday there was a deafening clamor of heavy equipment scooping up the splintered homes, smashed vehicles and shredded trees. But on either side of that path, picturesque houses and lawns seem untouched, and one might be hard-pressed to believe a twister packing peak winds of 175-185 mph (109-115 kph) had ravaged the community of 2,000.

The havoc spun by Tuesday’s tornado in Greenfield showed on the faces of people still processing how quickly homes and lives were shattered — some in mourning and many grateful to have been spared.

Among those killed were Dean and Pam Wiggins, said their grandson Tom Wiggins.

On Thursday, he tried to find any of his grandparents’ mementos that remained after the tornado demolished their home, leaving little more than its foundation. He described them as “incredibly loved by not only our family but the entire town.”

Not far away, Bill Yount was cleaning up.

“It’s like somebody took a bomb,” said Yount, gesturing to the land — covered with wood, debris, trees stripped of their leaves, heavy machinery and equipment to clean up the mess.

He waited out the storm in a closet.

“The roof raised up and slammed back down and then the windows all blew out,” he said Thursday. The tornado ripped the garage off his house and damaged interior walls. “Forty seconds changed my life immensely,” he said.

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A black van ended up badly damaged and sitting between his house and a neighbor’s.

“Nobody knows whose it is,” he said.

Sherri Beitz was cleaning up outside, grateful that her mother, Ginger Thompson, 79, survived despite being unable to get to the basement of her house because she’s in a wheelchair.

“She was trapped for a while,” Beitz said. “It was a scary situation, but the main thing is she is OK. House can be replaced.”

“You look around and are just so grateful that the community didn’t lose more than what we did,” Beitz said.

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

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

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency’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 (209.21 kilometers) across Iowa, according to Donna Dubberke, the meteorologist in charge in Des Moines.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said 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.

More than 202 homes were destroyed by a series of tornadoes that raked the state on Tuesday, Reynolds said. 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 unsettled weather was expected to continue in the Midwest.

A tornado was on the ground in southwestern Oklahoma for nearly an hour on Thursday evening, the National Weather Service said. There were reports of some homes damaged, but no immediate reports of injuries, said meteorologist Jennifer Thompson.

The service had also received reports of very large hail — some the size of baseballs — while flash flooding occurred after 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) of rain fell along the path of the storm over about a three-hour period, Thompson said.

The weather service will have to investigate to determine how powerful the tornado was and for what distance it was on the ground, she said.

The weather service’s Storm Prediction Center showed 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 National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Ansorge of Des Moines.

“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 arrive Saturday and Sunday in storm-damaged parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Beck reported from Omaha, Nebraska. Associated Press writers Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; and Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Montana contributed.

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