Next Monday will be a poignant Memorial Day for the town of Parkersburg as residents remember the massive tornado that struck on that day, May 25th, one year before.
The mile-wide twister also hit New Hartford, killing a total of eight people and injuring dozens. In the past year, Parkersburg Police Chief Chris Luhring says the town focused on becoming a national role model for community development and disaster preparedness.
There were so-called experts who said Parkersburg would never recover and Chief Luhring says: "Those in Parkersburg and those in Iowa, we’re pretty resilient and we know when we say something we’re going to keep our commitments. We focused on getting people back into their businesses and back in their houses and doing it in the right way."
Luhring says the townspeople wouldn’t let the nay-sayers dictate what could and couldn’t be done. "Parkersburg has taken on lots of different projects," he says. "One of the main things we did was form a long-term recovery committee that highlighted certain projects that needed to be done as a community."
He says they worked hard at helping individuals and families to rebuild their lives as quickly as possible. Luhring says the community owes a tremendous debt to the thousands of people who streamed in to offer assistance of all sorts after the monster storm and tornado.
"When some towns rebuild, that town becomes the focus, but all of Iowa literally came to help Parkersburg," he says. "(The tornado) happened to happen before the floods and they just devastated our entire state, on top of the tornadoes. But it’s an all-of-Iowa solution and it’s amazing to see how everybody came together."
Luhring says the community is asking that the people from across Iowa who helped Parkersburg to recover return to the town during Memorial Day weekend to see the difference they helped to make.
"Just to allow people to see the changes that have taken place, to allow people to see the hand that they had in our recovery is one of our main goals," Luhring says. "Anybody that came as a volunteer, firefighters, medics, National Guardsmen and women, police officers, churches — just come back to see what we’ve accomplished."
A host of events are planned during the holiday weekend: a fishing tournament, a dance, a community concert, a playground dedication and a memorial service on Monday where Governor Culver will speak. That service is expected to end at 4:59 P.M. with the tolling of church bells to remember the time when the killer twister hit. For more information, see the Parkersburg website .