Iowans in several central Iowa towns spent Sunday cleaning up debris strewn about by nine powerful tornadoes that touched down early Saturday night. Winds topped 150-miles an hour, damaging and destroying homes, and killing one person in Stratford.
Stratford Mayor Mike Neperney says it’s surreal. “You never believe it’ll happen to you and your community,” Neperney says. He says there’s been a “tremendous outpouring” of help from neighboring towns. “I don’t know how you can ever thank them all,” Neperney says.
Eighty-year-old Robert Carlson was sitting in his home in Stratford — and had to ride out the storm in his easy chair. “It did come so fast and so quick,” he says. “I heard windows break, so I ducked down in the chair a little bit and the next thing the dust was just a blowing and blowing. I shut my eyes.” Carlson says when he opened them just a short while later and looked up, all he could see was sky. The roof had been ripped off his house.
Joe Lambert, pastor of the Stratford Lutheran Church, says his brief Sunday sermon was planned around a Bible passage that spoke to the tragedy. Lambert says Paul’s Letter to the Thessolonians says you don’t know the day of the hour when destruction will come down on you. But the pastor says the “back end of the lesson” tells folks not to live like people who have no hope. “Keep encouraging each other and continue to build on the faith that’s been given to you,” Lambert says.
Several Stratford residents had slept in the church overnight because their homes had been destroyed, and Lambert says he didn’t hold a traditional Sunday morning service. Lambert says folks who were around got together in the sanctuary, sang a few songs, talked and prayed, then went outside to re-join the clean-up effort.
Governor Vilsack has declared Dallas and Hamilton Counties disaster areas.
On Sunday afternoon, Vilsack visited Woodward and Stratford, the two towns that received the most damage. “These are two communities that have been hit pretty hard with a tornado that was totally unexpected,” Vilsack said during a phone interview with Radio Iowa. “In the month of November, you just wouldn’t expect to see tornado damage in the state of Iowa.”
Vilsack says there is a lot of debris, a lot of “broken dreams” but people “came from all over the state of Iowa to help” in the clean-up. Vilsack says it’s remarkable there was only one death from this dangerous storm system.
Vilsack says that death is tragic, but things could have been much more tragic if the alerts hadn’t gotten out that tornadoes were nearby, and utility crews quickly got a handle on broken pipelines after the tornadoes struck. During a news conference in Stratford, Vilsack praised local officials for setting off the sirens.
(Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson edited and contributed to this report.)