Most streets are now clear of storm debris in Marshalltown, but much work remains to rebuild after last Thursday’s EF-3 tornado plowed through the central Iowa town.
The call went out immediately for first responders and one of the first to arrive was State Center Police Chief Jeff Bunn. Even though Bunn has been a law officer in State Center 21 years, this was a first.
“We have what we call a general alarm where dispatch will send out an alert tone and they basically request all agencies to respond to Marshalltown,” Chief Bunn says. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard it, I mean, we’ve never really even practiced it.”
Despite a lack of training for how to respond to that general alarm, Bunn says everyone acted accordingly. “When that alert tone went out, I knew right away what was going to happen,” Bunn says. “The dispatcher announced, ‘This is a general alarm. All emergency services respond to Marshalltown immediately,’ and they did and it was amazing.”
Bunn says in earlier drills, it was expected that if a disaster struck the area, authorities could count on ten ambulances responding. Last Thursday night, 43 ambulances arrived in Marshalltown.
Much of the damage was concentrated on Marshalltown’s First Ward. Sue Cahill, the city councilor for that area of town, says the long term effects of the twister will be much more than just property damage.
“Next door to me are some families who originally came from southeast Asia,” Cahill says. “They asked me that night of the tornado, ‘Is it going to come back?’ They didn’t have any idea what a tornado is. They might’ve been used to a monsoon or a different type of storm.” She says countless residents will need professional counseling to overcome what they’ve experienced.
“We have many people who are still recounting their time in the basement,” Cahill says. “There’s a story of someone uptown, he and his son were in a stairwell outside in the downtown. How are they going to handle that in the long term?” She notes it’s stunning that there wasn’t one death in the wake of the 12 tornadoes confirmed by the National Weather Service on Thursday in central Iowa.
With Marshalltown’s city offices among the many buildings damaged, the city council will meet tonight at the public library.
(By Ken Huge, KFJB, Marshalltown/ Photos courtesy of Ken Huge and NWS)