UNITED STATES NEWS

5 dead and at least 35 hurt as tornadoes ripped through Iowa, officials say

May 21, 2024, 9:39 PM | Updated: May 22, 2024, 7:44 pm

GREENFIELD, Iowa (AP) — Five people died and at least 35 were hurt as powerful tornadoes ripped through Iowa, with one carving a path of destruction through the small city of Greenfield, officials said Wednesday.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety said Tuesday’s tornadoes killed four people in the Greenfield area, and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office said a fifth person — a woman whose car was blown off the road — was killed by a twister about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away. Monica Zamarron, 46, died in the crash Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

Officials did not release the names of the Greenfield area victims because they were still notifying relatives.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety said Wednesday it’s believed that the number of people injured is likely higher.

The Greenfield tornado left a wide swath of obliterated homes, splintered trees and crumpled cars in the town of 2,000 about 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) southwest of Des Moines. The twister also ripped apart and crumpled massive power-producing wind turbines several miles outside the city.

Greenfield resident Kimberly Ergish, 33, and her husband dug through the debris field Wednesday that used to be their home, looking for family photos and other salvageable items. There wasn’t much left, she acknowledged.

“Most of it we can’t save,” she said. “But we’re going to get what we can.”

The reality of having her house destroyed in seconds hasn’t really set in, she said.

“If it weren’t for all the bumps and bruises and the achy bones, I would think that it didn’t happen,” she said.

Tuesday’s storms also pummeled parts of Illinois and Wisconsin, knocking out power to tens of thousands of customers in the two states. The severe weather turned south on Wednesday, and the National Weather Service was issuing tornado and flash flood warnings in Texas as parts of the state — including Dallas — were under a tornado watch.

The National Weather Service said initial surveys indicated at least an EF-3 tornado in Greenfield, but additional damage assessment could lead to a more powerful ranking.

The tornado appeared to have been on the ground for more than 40 miles (64 kilometers), AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jon Porter said. A satellite photo taken by a BlackSky Technology shows where the twister gouged a nearly straight path of destruction through the town, just south of Greenfield’s center square.

The deadly twister was spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes in the U.S., at a time when climate change is heightening the severity of storms around the world. April had the second-highest number of tornadoes on record in the country.

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

On Tuesday alone, the National Weather Service said it received 23 tornado reports, with most in Iowa and one each in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The tornado that decimated parts of Greenfield brought to life the worst case scenario in Iowa that weather forecasters had feared, Porter said.

“Debris was lifted thousands of feet in the air and ended up falling to the ground several counties away from Greenfield. That’s evidence of just how intense and deadly this tornado was,” Porter said.

People as far as 100 miles (160 kilometers) away from Greenfield posted photos on Facebook of ripped family photos, yearbook pages and other items that were lifted into the sky by the tornado.

About 90 miles 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 like a Post-It note after the storm passed.

“We just couldn’t believe it had traveled that far,” she said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said FEMA’s administrator would head to Iowa on Thursday and that the White House was in touch with state and local officials. She said they were “praying for those who tragically lost their lives” and wished those injured a “speedy recovery.”

Greenfield’s 25-bed hospital was among the buildings damaged, and at least a dozen people who were hurt had to be taken to facilities elsewhere. Hospital officials said in a Facebook post Wednesday that the hospital will remain closed until it can be further assessed and that full repairs could take weeks or months. The hospital, with the help of other providers, set up an urgent care clinic at an elementary school with primary care services to start there Thursday, the post said.

Residential streets that on Monday were lined with old-growth trees and neatly-appointed ranch-style homes were a chaotic jumble of splintered and smashed remnants by Wednesday. Many of the homes’ basements where residents sheltered lay exposed and front yards were littered with belongings from furniture to children’s toys and Christmas decorations.

Dwight Lahey, a 70-year-old retired truck driver, drove from suburban Des Moines to Greenfield to help his 98-year-old mother. She had taken refuge from the twister in her basement, then walked out through her destroyed garage to a nearby convenience store, Lahey said.

“I don’t know how she got through that mess,” he said. His mom was staying in a hotel, uncertain about where she’ll end up with her home gone, he said.

Roseann Freeland, 67, waited until the last minute to rush with her husband to a concrete room in her basement. Seconds later, her husband opened the door “and you could just see daylight,” Freeland said. “I just lost it. I just totally lost it.”

Tuesday’s destructive weather also saw flooding and power outages in Nebraska, damage from tornadoes in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and dust storms in Illinois that forced two interstates to be closed.

The devastation in Iowa followed days of extreme weather that ravaged much of the middle section of the country, including Oklahoma and Kansas. Last week, deadly storms hit the Houston area, killing at least eight and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands.

___

Beck reported from Omaha, Nebraska. Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski and Trisha Ahmed in Minneapolis; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; and Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, contributed to this report.

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5 dead and at least 35 hurt as tornadoes ripped through Iowa, officials say