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Response gears up after IA twisters

Damage assessments underway following tornadoes that struck Iowa Sunday leaving hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed

BY VICKI DESORMIER | PARKERSBURG, IA | May 27, 2008


"Usually you see sheets of metal, there wasn't anything that big that I could see. On some of these farmsteads, there were no buildings, no cars…nothing."

—John Schrock of Mennonite Disaster Service


Disaster response workers began Monday and Tuesday the assessment process to determine how to best respond to the tornadoes that destroyed much of the city of Parkersburg and the surrounding farmsteads on Sunday afternoon.

Iowa Homeland Security administrator Dave Miller said seven people were killed in Parkersburg and two in nearby New Hartford. More than 50 people were treated for injuries and at least 222 homes were completely destroyed. In Parkersburg, scores of businesses, the town's fire station and the high school were reduced to rubble.

"Right now, you probably get a better picture of what it's really like from watching the news and looking on the Internet," John Schrock, of Mennonite Disaster Service, said Monday evening. "We drove through the area to places we could get, but right now, we've just handed out our number and told people to call when they are ready."

Around the affected area, many roads were shut down because live electrical wires were strewn across them. In fields, small pieces of what used to be people's homes, businesses and vehicles were scattered around. Schrock said there wasn't a piece "any bigger than a basketball" that he could see.

"I've seen a lot of these," he said. "Usually you see sheets of metal, there wasn't anything that big that I could see. On some of these farmsteads, there were no buildings, no cars…nothing."

The further east one traveled, he said, the worse the situation appeared. He said that the damage from the wind remained horrific, but thunderstorms that had spawned the twisters had dropped more rain in that area, adding flooding to the destructive mix.

The Rev. Michael Stadie of Lutheran Disaster Response in Iowa said he is putting together a coalition of faith-based responders to go to Parkersburg later in the week to set up a team that will work on long-term recovery for the area. So far, he said, he has commitments from representatives of the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, Mennonite Disaster Service and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

David Dethmers, of the Reformed Church in America’s (RCA) Global Mission office, was traveling to the region Tuesday afternoon. Five RCA churches in the region were impacted by the storms.

"We're coordinating right now. We have some figures from the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and we'll travel to Parkersburg on Wednesday to begin to form a long-term recovery team and get to work," he said.

In the meantime, the American Red Cross had set up some temporary canteens and shelter centers in Dunkerton and Applington. They were handing out food and water to residents and law enforcement officers working in the area. There was some damage in Dunkerton from the storm, but it was, according to Miller, relatively minor.

In Parkersburg, the elementary school, which was untouched by the storm that tore up much of the rest of the town, has been set up as a temporary shelter for residents who lost their homes. Most, however, are staying nearby with family or friends.

Schrock said the families of many of those who resided in Parkersburg live in the surrounding communities so many of those towns are pulling together, doing whatever they can to help out.


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