Iowa towns clean up after tornado

June 1 twister caused significant damage.

BY HEATHER MOYER | FRUITLAND, Iowa | June 9, 2007


A June 1 tornado in Fruitland destroyed the town's post office and city hall.
Credit: National Weather Service Quad Cities Office

The tornado tore a 16-mile path through eastern Iowa, damaging buildings in Muscatine as well.
Credit: National Weather Service Quad Cities Office

Cleanup continues in Fruitland one week after a tornado tore a path through the area.

"The volunteers have been wonderful," said Jan Lane, volunteer coordinator at the Fruitland Fire Station. "I have 20 to 30 sheets full of names of those who came in. We've had them from as far away as Florida and Wisconsin."

The June 1 tornado destroyed at least 29 homes in the small eastern Iowa town and caused major damage to more than 30 others. Homes were also destroyed in nearby Grandview and in a rural part of Jackson County farther north. A 16-mile path of destruction stretched across Louisa and Muscatine counties.

Lane said juggling the volunteers with the needs has been challenging, but there was plenty of work to do. Affected residents have requested help removing debris as well as with cutting down trees and picking up broken limbs. Volunteers were also sorting the debris for the various landfills and dump sites.

"We're taking care of people as they call in and trying to get it done as fast as we can," Lane said. "We're taking everything in steps, one at a time."

Char Thompson of Island United Methodist Church (IUMC) said the community has come together to help and the local churches were serving meals.

"We're coordinating who's making the meals and we've done that everyday since last Saturday," said Thompson, an IUMC trustee.

The meal operations just switched to weekends only as volunteer crews work on the clean up. Thompson said many organizations have stepped forward to prepare the meals, including the local Lions Club and Fruitland Baptist Church. The organizations rotate the days they serve the meals.

"We're also taking meals out to the workers and the families," Thompson said. "It's a pretty big operation. We might have lost a third of the town, so much will have to be rebuilt."

No deaths or serious injuries were reported in the tornado. A town postal worker who was hurt when the post office and city hall collapsed around her was on the mend, both Thompson and Lane reported.

Mary Lou Rock of Fruitland Baptist Church said people were surprised that there no deaths or major injuries.

"There were no deaths and that was amazing," she said. "A lot of houses are completely gone. Many are just wiped out to the ground."

Thompson said many IUMC members had home damage, including hers. For those who lost their homes, she said the shock was wearing off.

"They know it's just stuff, it can be replaced," Thompson said. "Most are saying that life will go on."

The tornado spared Lane's home, but not her daughter's. They were able to salvage some family heirlooms from the rubble, but not much else.

"My daughter had just bought that home and was in it less than three weeks," Lane said.

The local fire department and volunteers helped sort through the rubble for personal items, and Lane was so grateful that she said she wanted to give back.

"I couldn't figure out a way to pay everyone back for helping, so I came down to volunteer on Saturday," she said. "This is where I've been ever since, coordinating volunteers. If I could help one person get their house back, it'd make me very happy."

She agreed that the tornado brought Fruitland residents closer together.

"It's one big family here right now," she said.

The tornado destroyed seven homes and severely damaged another 15 in Grandview, a town 10 miles southwest of Fruitland.

"Many people weren't home during this and that was a blessing," said Tom Colthurst, emergency management coordinator for Louisa County. "We've had tremendous support from our faith groups and churches. We've also had response from all over. The outpouring of support has been unbelievable."

Colthurst said most homeowners who suffered damages have insurance.

"Who knows yet if they will be underinsured, but at least there's something," he said.

The tornado also caused agricultural damage, destroying irrigation systems, some grain silos and machine sheds.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver requested a federal disaster declaration for Jackson, Muscatine and Louisa counties. Jackson County saw tornado damage in a rural area around Jackson and Bellevue Townships. One mobile home was destroyed and two others were severely damaged. Numerous agricultural structures were also damaged.

The National Weather Service said the tornado had winds of 143 miles per hour along much of its path and was one-fourth to one-eighth of a mile wide in some parts.


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