WINTERSET, Iowa (AP) — Seven people were killed, including two children, when multiple tornadoes swept through central Iowa, destroying homes and downing trees and power lines in the deadliest storm in the state for more than a decade, authorities said.
Madison County emergency management officials said four people were injured and six people were killed on Saturday when a tornado touched down in the area southwest of Des Moines near the town of Winterset around 4:30 p.m. Among those killed were two children under the age of five and four adults.
In Lucas County, about 87 miles southeast of Des Moines, authorities confirmed one death and several injuries were reported when a separate tornado struck less than an hour later.
The state Department of Natural Resources said the deceased was in an RV at a Red Haw State Park campground in Chariton, Iowa.
Thunderstorms that spawned tornadoes swept through much of Iowa from the afternoon through Saturday evening, with storms also causing damage in the Des Moines suburb of Norwalk, areas just east of Des Moines and other areas of eastern Iowa. The storms were fueled by warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico.
Authorities reported that a number of homes were damaged or destroyed, roads were blocked by downed lines and tree branches were ripped apart by high winds. At one point, power outages affected more than 10,000 people in the Des Moines area. About 800 customers remained without power Sunday evening.
The storms are the deadliest to occur in Iowa since May 2008, when a tornado destroyed nearly 300 homes and killed nine people in the northern Iowa town of Parkersburg. A month later, another tornado killed four boys at the Little Sioux Boy Scout Ranch in western Iowa.
Victor Gensini, professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University, said there were many examples of killer storms in March, although they are more frequent in April and May. Saturday’s storms weren’t as unusual as the mid-December tornado outbreak that Iowa experienced last year, he said.
“The storms that produce these tornadoes – these supercell storms – don’t care what the calendar says,” Gensini said. “He doesn’t have to say June. It doesn’t have to say May. They form whenever the ingredients are present. And they were certainly present yesterday.
Scientists have said that extreme weather events and warmer temperatures are more likely to occur with human-induced climate change. However, scientifically attributing a storm system to global warming requires specific analysis and computer simulations that are time-consuming, undone, and sometimes show no clear link.
Gensini said Saturday’s storms likely caused more than $1 billion in damage over their entire run when severe damage in Iowa is combined with wind damage as far away as Illinois. .
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued a Disaster Proclamation for Madison County that allows state resources to be used to help with response and recovery efforts. Madison County Emergency Management Director Diogenes Ayala said 52 homes were damaged or destroyed over nearly 14 miles.
The White House said President Joe Biden was briefed on Sunday about the devastation caused by the storm in Iowa. Biden contacted Reynolds and ordered leaders of the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stay in close contact with state and local authorities as they assess the damage and determine what federal assistance is needed. , the White House said in a statement.
After touring the storm damage near Winterset, Reynolds described “unimaginable destruction”.
Reynolds wept as she described the hundreds of people who flocked to the area to offer their help clearing debris that blocked roads and littered the hardest hit areas. Homeowners and volunteers were picking up wood debris and starting to clean it up in the hills south of Winterset on Sunday as chainsaws swirled in the background.
“It’s just amazing. I tried to walk through them and thank them again and again (and) the response was, we are Iowans and this is what we do,” she said.
The foundation was all that was left of several houses. The tornado carved a path of destruction along a ridge while several hundred meters beyond other homes were undamaged.
Ayala said rescuers used narrow roads blocked by downed trees and debris on Saturday night to help after the storm.
“With trees and debris and all around just to get out there and start search and rescue and get those affected out, I can’t express the heroism of the first responders who were there last night,” Ayala said.
Officials identified the six people killed in Madison County as 63-year-old Melissa Bazley; Rodney Clark, 64; Cecilia Lloyd, 72; Michael Bolger, 37; Kinlee Bolger, 5; and Owen Bolger, 2. The victims came from three different households.
Lucas County officials did not immediately identify the person who died Sunday afternoon.
Six injured people in Madison County, known for the book and movie “Bridges of Madison County,” were being treated for injuries on Sunday, but their conditions were not immediately available.
The Des Moines National Weather Service said Sunday the tornado that killed one person in Lucas County stayed on the ground for more than 16 miles (25.75 kilometers) and rated an EF-3 on the Fujita scale. improved with peak winds of 138 mph. The Winterset tornado’s damage assessment isn’t expected to be completed until Monday, but the Weather Service tweeted on Saturday that early photos of damage suggested the tornado was also at least an EF-3 tornado.
Elsewhere, the National Weather Service said storms generated an EF-1 tornado in southeastern Wisconsin near Stoughton with winds of up to 80 mph. The storm flattened trees, snapped utility poles and blew out windows in homes. No injuries were reported.
The spelling of Kinlee Bolger’s first name has been corrected.
Associated Press reporter Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report. Funk contributed from Omaha, Nebraska.
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