Thousands of central Iowans spent Friday assessing damage and cleaning up stockpiles of debris after a chain of powerful tornadoes roared through central Iowa.
At least five tornadoes struck the area, with the most damage in Marshalltown, Pella and Bondurant, according to the National Weather Service. Survey teams are on the ground examining damage to determine the tornadoes’ strength.
The weather service said the tornadoes that hit Pella and Marshalltown were rated EF3, packing wind speeds of approximately 144 mph. The tornado that hit Bondurant was rated an EF2 with peak winds of 110 mph.
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said there were reports of more than two dozen tornadoes but that they all likely stem from the same handful of twisters.
At least 17 people were injured in the tornado outbreak, but remarkably, no one was killed. Marshalltown had at least 30 minutes of lead time, while Pella had at least 17 minutes of lead time.
The Des Moines Weather Forecast Office issued its first tornado emergency for Marshalltown. That means confidence is high that catastrophic damage will occur in a populated area with a confirmed tornado.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for four counties hit by tornadoes: Lee, Marshall, Polk and Van Buren. The move by Reynolds on Friday allows state resources to be used to help the cleanup.
Reynolds also issued an order Thursday that lets commercial drivers work longer hours if they are aiding in cleanup and recovery efforts.
MAYHEM IN MARSHALLTOWN
Marshalltown, a city of 27,000 people about 50 miles northeast of Des Moines, appeared to have been hit the hardest. Brick walls collapsed in the streets, roofs were blown off buildings and the cupola of the historic courthouse tumbled 175 feet to the ground.
The only hospital in Marshalltown was damaged, spokeswoman Amy Varcoe said. All 40 of the patients at UnityPoint Health were being transferred to the health system’s larger hospital in Waterloo as well as one in Grundy Center, she said.
The emergency room in the smaller Marshalltown hospital remained open to treat patients injured in the storm, Varcoe said. Ten people hurt in the storm had been treated, she said. She did not know how serious those patients’ injuries were.
Alliant Energy crews were working Friday to restore electricity to nearly 6,400 customers in the Marshalltown area, and natural gas service has been shut down in part of the city. Crews were dispatched to repair damage and assess which areas can have gas service safely restored.
Several businesses and dozens of homes were damaged.
Lennox Industries’ manufacturing facility sustained tornado damage, but it was unclear to what extent. A spokesperson said there were no reported injuries to on-site employees.
Some buildings at the Iowa Veterans Home sustained roof damage when the tornado hit. A spokesperson said the facility housing nearly 500 residents lost power, but no residents or staffers were injured. Generators were powering the buildings Friday.
A spokesperson for the American Red Cross said the organization has set up an emergency shelter at the the Marshalltown YMCA for those displaced by the tornado.
Marshalltown resident Stephanie Moz said she, her husband and 2-month-old baby were in the downtown clothing store she owns when tornado sirens went off. The family sought shelter in the building’s basement and heard “cracking and booms and explosions” as the tornado passed.
The storm broke out a window, ruining clothing and hats on display there, and destroyed her husband’s vehicle. But she said she’s relieved.
“We went through a tornado and survived,” Moz said. “I’m happy.”
Iowa State Rep. Mark Smith, who lives in Marshalltown, told KCCI that the area likely will be declared a disaster area. Smith said much of downtown was damaged. He said his house and neighborhood were spared, but surrounding homes were hit.
“There are houses with windows out, houses without roofs,” he said. “It’s just an absolute mess.”
Police urged residents hoping to catch a glimpse of the damage to avoid the area as crews work to clean up the debris. The city had implemented a curfew for residents Thursday night.
TORNADO STRIKES FACTORY
Another tornado hit agricultural machinery maker Vermeer Manufacturing in the town of Pella, about 40 miles southeast of Des Moines. People were still working at the plant at the time. The storm scattered huge sheets of metal through a parking lot and left one building with a huge hole in it.
The company, which has about 2,800 employees, makes agricultural machinery, including hay balers and mowers, and equipment for pipeline and forestry management industries.
Jason Andringa, chief executive officer of the manufacturing plant, said at an impromptu news conference Thursday that 400 dealers and customers were in town for an appreciation day to celebrate the company’s 70th anniversary. He said operations would be closed Friday as crews assess structural damage.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, who toured the plant Friday, credited the company’s security team with moving them all to safety.
She added that in Marshalltown, the state is providing a communications trailer and workers to help maintain emergency communications there. She said Marshalltown’s building housing its local communications system was damaged.
Seven people were taken to Pella Regional Health Center with minor injuries, a spokeswoman confirmed. They were all released by Thursday evening.
Vice President of Operations Vince Newendorp said the east half of the company’s campus, which includes seven manufacturing buildings, sustained extensive damage.
He said the plant activated its storm warning system and workers were in shelters when the storm hit.
One of the factory’s several manufacturing buildings sustained extensive damage with metal strewn across the parking lot and across the street into a cornfield.
FOOTAGE CAPTURES TERROR IN BONDURANT
Surprised residents ran for cover Thursday as funnel clouds spawned over Bondurant. Several residents sent KCCI video of additional funnels as the storm moved east of Des Moines past Altoona, Prairie City and Colfax. There was also a visible funnel cloud east of Ankeny.
Funnel clouds are weak and smaller in scale. The storm struck Bondurant first but did perhaps the least amount of damage there.
There were no reports of serious injuries in Bondurant. One video showed a tornado tearing a house to shreds. An official said four or five homes were destroyed on the northeast edge of the city.
A football team showed up Friday morning to assist in cleanup efforts.
Fire Chief Aaron Kreuder said several other homes in the city just northeast of Des Moines have significant damage but appear to be repairable.
A collapsed wall in one of the damaged homes ruptured, causing a major gas leak for more than an hour until a hole could be dug in the yard to shut off the line.
Kreuder said a tornado dropped to the ground, rose back up and then dropped again. He said minor injuries were reported but nothing requiring emergency transportation to the hospital.