Dazed Iowa town overwhelmed by breadth of devastation

  • May 26, 2008 - 8:14 PM

Half of this small town of Parkersburg, Iowa, lay in ruins or heavily damaged Monday after a deadly tornado that ripped apart a stretch of northern Iowa.

"You really are overwhelmed when you see it," Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said Monday after touring the 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 searching through the wreckage for victims, but officials said they were hopeful that no one else remained to be found.

The Sunday twister killed six people in Iowa, four in Parkersburg and two others in nearby New Hartford. In addition, about 70 people were injured, two of them in critical condition.


Officials counted 222 homes destroyed, 21 businesses destroyed and more than 400 homes damaged. Among the buildings destroyed were city hall, the high school and the town's sole grocery store and gas station. That's about half of the homes in Parkersburg destroyed or severely damaged, said Butler County Sheriff Jason Johnson.

"There's so much hurt here, I don't know where to start," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, who owns a farm near New Hartford.


Warning sirens sounded early enough to give residents time to seek shelter, said Parkersburg Mayor Bob Haylock.

"Without that, we would have a tremendous amount of injuries and loss of life," he said.

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.

The storm hit just after 5 p.m. Sunday, following 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.


The storms came after three days of violent weather elsewhere. Oklahoma was battered Saturday and storms in Kansas a day earlier killed at least two people. About 100 people have been killed by U.S. twisters so far this year, the worst toll in a decade, the weather service said. Tornado season typically peaks in the spring and early summer, then again in the late fall.


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