Death toll unclear as Iowa reels from tornado

Jeri Pickrell, right, is comforted by Cassie Marckmann as she searches for salvageable items in the wreckage of her home on Wednesday, which was destroyed by a tornado, in Greenfield, Iowa. (Rachel Mummey/The New York Times)

Southwestern Iowa was reeling Wednesday after a destructive wave of storms, including a tornado, swept across the state the day before, leaving an unknown number of people dead.

The tornado devastated the city of Greenfield, where survey teams estimated it had wind gusts of up to 165 mph, powerful enough to cause major damage to buildings.


Gov. Kim Reynolds said that Iowa officials were still focused on search and rescue operations. While there were reports of multiple deaths, the governor and other officials did not have final figures.

“It is just gut-wrenching,” Reynolds said at a news conference Wednesday morning in Greenfield, Iowa, where large swaths of the town were destroyed by the tornado. “It is just horrific; it is hard to describe.”

Here’s what to know:

— Multiple people died and at least a dozen were injured by a tornado in Greenfield, about 50 miles southwest of Des Moines, the Iowa State Patrol said.

— There were multiple reports of tornadoes in southwestern Iowa, the National Weather Service said.

— Reynolds issued an emergency disaster proclamation in 15 counties. In Adams County, one woman died from storm-related causes, according to the county’s medical examiner.

— The weather service warned of “unsettled and changeable weather” from the West Coast to the Great Plains in the next few days. On Wednesday evening, forecasts were not as worrisome as they had been Tuesday. A tornado watch was in place in central and northeastern Texas until 8 p.m. Central Time, but the risk was considered much lower. Hail and high winds were possible there and in parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Some stormy weather could stretch as far north as New York.

The storm devastated Greenfield, a city of about 2,000 people, where video footage showed destroyed homes, mangled cars, and roads covered with debris after a reported tornado swept through the town in the afternoon. The Adair County Health System hospital in the city sustained tornado damage, and patients were transferred to other nearby hospitals, the Iowa Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

The city announced a curfew Tuesday from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. local time as it assessed the death toll and damage. “This tornado has devastated a good portion of this town and community,” Sgt. Alex Dinkla of the Iowa State Patrol said at a news conference Tuesday evening.

In Adams County, near Greenfield, television footage showed that three wind turbines had been toppled. One appeared to have caught fire, releasing a large plume of smoke.

A flood warning was in place for Butler and Black Hawk counties, northeast of Des Moines, for much of Wednesday.

The storms began Tuesday morning with pea-sized hail, strong winds and heavy rains sweeping through Madison County, southwest of Des Moines. Multiple tornadoes were reported in southwest Iowa, as well as several north of Des Moines. At one point Tuesday night, more than 13 million people in parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin were under tornado watches.

It was the latest bout of severe weather to strike the Midwest in recent weeks. Earlier storms have killed dozens of people across multiple states and injured many more. There have been more than 150 preliminary reports of tornadoes in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri so far this year. Most of those reports occurred before May and June, typically the peak period for tornadic weather in these states.

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