Iowa cities assess damage after tornadoes injure 17
6,400 still without power as communities recover from surprise storm
A flurry of tornadoes that formed unexpectedly swept through central Iowa Thursday, injuring at least 17 people, flattening buildings in three cities and forcing the evacuation of a hospital.
Residents — and even weather forecasters — were taken by surprise Thursday as the tornadoes hit Marshalltown, Pella and Bondurant. Ten people were injured in Marshalltown and seven at a factory near Pella, but no deaths were reported.
Alex Krull, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, said forecasting models produced Thursday morning showed only a slight chance of strong thunderstorms later in the day.
"This morning, it didn't look like tornadic supercells were possible," Krull said. "If anything, we were expecting we could get some large hail, if strong storms developed."
Gov. Reynolds is at the State Emergency Operations Center right now being briefed on today's storms/tornadoes. HSEMD is in constant contact with county emergency management as they're in the process of assessing damage. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/iagov?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#iagov</a> <a href="https://t.co/6P8Vbbc5Oe">https://t.co/6P8Vbbc5Oe</a>—@IAGovernor
Gov. Kim Reynolds and other officials intend to tour Bondurant, Marshalltown and Pella on Friday to check the damage and meet with local authorities.
Marshalltown , a city of 27,000 people about 80 kilometres 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 53 metres to the ground.
Alliant Energy said nearly 6,400 Marshalltown customers remained without power Friday morning.
The only hospital in Marshalltown was damaged, spokesperson 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.
Marshalltown resident Stephanie Moz said she, her husband and two-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."
Tornadoes weren't forecasted
Weather forecasters said the tornadoes formed suddenly and took them by surprise.
Additional funnels were reported as the storm moved east of Des Moines past Altoona, Prairie City and Colfax.
National Weather Service meteorologist Rod Donavon said two primary storms spawned the series of damaging tornadoes. One developed in the Marshalltown area, causing damage there, while the other started east of Des Moines and traveled through Bondurant and into Pella.
The exact number of tornadoes and their strength will be determined later.
'It's just an absolute mess'
Iowa State Rep. Mark Smith, who lives in Marshalltown, told Des Moines station KCCI-TV 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."
Another tornado hit agricultural machinery maker Vermeer Manufacturing in the town of Pella, about 64 kilometres 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.
PHOTOS: Tornado rips through Vermeer manufacturing <a href="https://t.co/ggywJa6hbC">https://t.co/ggywJa6hbC</a> <a href="https://t.co/8DZ2CCFmwm">pic.twitter.com/8DZ2CCFmwm</a>—@KCCINews
Seven people injured at the plant were taken to Pella Regional Health Center, hospital spokesperson Billie Rhamy said. They all were released after being treated for their minor injuries, Rhamy said.
Reynolds told WHO-TV in Des Moines that two of Vermeer's buildings in Pella were demolished in the storm. She said Vermeer was hosting 500 customers for an appreciation day when the weather hit. She credited the company's security team with moving them all to safety.
Reynolds 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.