Authorities still conducting search, rescue after tornado slams Iowa; at least 1 dead

houses destroyed by tornado
Workers search through the remains of tornado-damaged homes, Tuesday in Greenfield, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall | AP

Updated May 22, 11:11 a.m. | Posted May 21, 9:46 p.m.

Authorities in Iowa were continuing search and rescue efforts Wednesday, a day after a deadly tornado slammed the state, killing at least one.

The Adams County Sheriff’s office said a woman died Tuesday when her vehicle was blown off the road during the storms about 3 miles (5 kilometers) north of Corning, Iowa, or about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of Greenfield, where the tornado left a wide swath of obliterated homes and crumpled cars.

The woman’s name and age were not immediately released. She was the only occupant in the vehicle.

Officials did not immediately give details Wednesday morning of other deaths or injuries, saying they were still conducting search and rescue operations.

The tornado that tore through Greenfield also twisted and toppled wind turbines outside of the small town.

After devastating Greenfield, a town of 2,000, the storms moved eastward to pummel parts of Illinois and Wisconsin, knocking out power to tens of thousands of customers in the two states.

The deadly twister that hit Iowa came amid a historically bad season for tornadoes in the U.S. at a time when climate change is heightening the severity of storms around the world. April had the second highest number of tornadoes on record in the U.S.

Through Tuesday, there have been 27% more tornadoes in the country than average. The preliminary count for this year of 859 is the highest since 2017 and is significantly more than the average of 676 through May 21, according to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Nearly 700 of the tornadoes have been in April and May.

Iowa has had the most tornadoes this year with 81, followed by Texas with 74 and Kansas and Ohio each with 66.

Greenfield's hospital was among the buildings that were damaged in the town, which meant that at least a dozen people who were hurt had to be taken to facilities elsewhere, according to Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Alex Dinkla.

“Sadly we can confirm that there have been fatalities,” Dinkla said at a news conference Tuesday night, without specifying how many. “We’re still counting at this time.”

Dinkla said he thought they had accounted for all of the town’s residents but that searches would continue if anyone was reported missing. The Adair County Health System said in a Facebook post Tuesday night that it had set up a triage center at the Greenfield high school and that people who need medical attention should go there.

The tornado destroyed much of Greenfield, which is located about 55 miles (90 kilometers) southwest of Des Moines, during a day that saw multiple tornadoes, giant hail and heavy rain in several states. The National Weather Service said it received 23 tornado reports Tuesday, with most in Iowa, and one each in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

On Facebook, people as far as 100 miles (160 kilometers) away from Greenfield posted photos of ripped family photos, check stubs, damp yearbook pages and other items that were lifted into the sky by the Greenfield tornado.

In Wisconsin, the weather service’s Green Bay office dispatched a staffer Wednesday morning to survey storm damage near the village of Unity in western Marathon County after law enforcement received a report from the public about a tornado on the ground about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday in that community about 55 miles (89 kilometers) east of Eau Claire, said meteorologist Roy Eckberg. He said staffers would also be visiting Outagamie County near the city of Kaukauna, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Green Bay, to investigate significant wind damage there.

Eckberg said high winds were reported Tuesday night across parts of central Wisconsin, with a wind gust of 70 mph (113 kilometers per hour) in the city of Marshfield and with wind damage also reported to the northwest in the city of Wausau.

Weather service staff would also be assessing storm damage Wednesday in southeastern Minnesota after radar indicated that a tornado touched down Tuesday night in Winona County, said Kate Abbott, a meteorologist with the agency’s La Crosse, Wisconsin, office.

“With that one we did have a radar confirmed tornado, but we’re going out and survey there to make sure the damage is consistent with a tornado,” she said.

Authorities announced a mandatory curfew for Greenfield and said they would only allow residents to enter the town until Wednesday morning. They also ordered media representatives to leave the city Tuesday night.

In the aftermath of the storm, mounds of broken wood from homes, branches, car parts and other debris littered lots where homes once stood. Some trees still standing were stripped of their limbs and leaves. Residents helped each other salvage furniture and other belongings that were strewn in every direction.

Rogue Paxton said he sheltered in the basement of his home when the storm moved through. He told WOI-TV he thought the house was lost but said his family got lucky.

“But everyone else is not so much, like my brother Cody, his house just got wiped,” Paxton said. “Then you see all these people out here helping each other. ... Everything’s going to be fine because we have each other, but it’s just going to be really, really rough. It is a mess."

A tornado also apparently took down several 250-foot (76-meter) wind turbines in southwest Iowa. Some of the turbines caught fire, sending plumes of smoke into the air. Wind farms are built to withstand tornadoes, hurricanes and other powerful winds.

Mary Long, the owner of Long’s Market in downtown Greenfield, said she rode out the storm at her business in the community’s historic town square, which largely escaped damage. Long said there appeared to be widespread damage on the east and south sides of town.

“I could hear this roaring, like the proverbial freight train, and then it was just done,” she said.

Camille Blair said the Greenfield Chamber of Commerce office where she works closed around 2 p.m. ahead of the storm.

“I can see from my house it kind of went in a straight line down the road,” she said of the tornado.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she planned to visit Greenfield on Wednesday morning.

“It was just a few weeks ago that tornadoes hit several other Iowa communities, and it’s hard to believe that it’s happened again,” she said in a statement. “Iowans are strong and resilient, and we will get through this together.”

Iowa had braced for severe weather after the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center gave most of the state a high chance of seeing severe thunderstorms with the potential for strong tornadoes. The storms and tornado warnings moved into Wisconsin on Tuesday evening and night.

Earlier in the day, residents to the west in Omaha, Nebraska, awoke to sirens blaring and widespread power outages as torrential rain, high winds and large hail pummeled the area. The deluge flooded basements and submerged cars. Television station KETV showed firefighters rescuing people from vehicles.

In Illinois, dust storms led authorities to shut down stretches of two interstates due to low visibility.

The storms followed days of extreme weather that have ravaged much of the middle section of the country. Strong winds, large hail and tornadoes swept parts of Oklahoma and Kansas late Sunday, damaging homes and injuring two in Oklahoma.

Another round of storms Monday night raked Colorado and western Nebraska and saw the city of Yuma, Colorado, blanketed in hail the size of baseballs and golf balls, turning streets into rivers of water and ice.

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