Today marks the 38th anniversary of a deadly tornado that struck the northeast Iowa cities of Oelwein and Maynard. Oelwein Fire Chief Wally Rundle was at the firehouse on the late afternoon of May 15, 1968 when the tornado struck. But Rundle says there was no warning that a devastating storm was coming. He says it was actually two tornadoes that started south of Oelwein and then merged into one and headed into Oelwein.
Rundle says they started to see hail come down, “and the next thing I knew people were running past the station looking over their shoulders.” One woman died in the storm.
Rundle says they rescued the woman from an apartment in the downtown area, as she had fallen down between two floors when the chimney blew out. Rundle says the woman was taken to the Oelwein hospital where she later died from her injuries. Rundle says the storm caused massive damage to the downtown and eastern side of the city. He says they talked about damage in the millions at the time, and Rundle says it would be in the tens of millions in today’s dollars.
Rundle says the tornado went right down railroad tracks through town and by the fire station. He says all the downed trees kept firefighters from getting a lot of equipment in the residential areas, and they ended up walking to rescues and climbing through trees.
Rundle says the tornado is still talked about. He says you can’t get a much worse tornado, and Rundle says they always talk about the Oelwein tornado when he goes to weather training classes. Rundle says the warning systems and radar are much more sophisticated today, but at the time there wasn’t much time for anyone to be ready for the storm.