No one expected the multiple tornadoes that crashed through central Iowa on Thursday. The massive storms injured at least 17 people and flattened buildings in three cities. A hospital was forced to evacuate.
Even the weather forecasters were baffled as tornadoes hit Marshalltown, Pella and Bondurant. Ten people were injured in Marshalltown and seven at a factory near Pella, but no deaths were reported.
Alex Krull, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, said forecasting models generated Thursday morning showed only a slight chance of strong thunderstorms later in the day.
“This morning, it didn’t look like tornadic supercells were possible,” Krull said. “If anything, we were expecting we could get some large hail, if strong storms developed.”
Marshalltown, a city 50 miles Northeast of Des Moines, seems to have been hit the hardest. In the city of 27,000 people, brick walls collapsed in the streets, roofs were blown off, and the cupola of the historic courthouse tumbled 175 feet to the ground.
The only hospital in Marshalltown was impacted and all 40 of the patients at UnityPoint Health were being transferred to the health system’s larger hospitals in Waterloo and Grundy Center, a hospital spokesperson said.
Marshalltown resident Stephanie Moz said she, her husband and 2-month-old baby were in the downtown clothing store she owns when tornado sirens went off. The family sought shelter in the building’s basement and heard “cracking and booms and explosions” as the tornado passed.
The storm broke out a window, damaged clothing and hats on display,, and destroyed her husband’s car. But she said she’s relieved.
“We went through a tornado and survived,” Moz said. “I’m happy.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Rod Donavon said two primary storms spawned the series of tornadoes. One developed in the Marshalltown area, causing damage there, while the other started east of Des Moines and traveled through Bondurant and into Pella.
CBS News reported Friday morning that 27 tornadoes were reported in the area.
Iowa State Rep. Mark Smith, who lives in Marshalltown, told Des Moines said that the area likely will be declared a disaster area. Smith said much of downtown was damaged.
“There are houses with windows out, houses without roofs,” he said. “It’s just an absolute mess.”
Seven people injured at plant in Pella and were taken to Pella Regional Health Center, hospital spokeswoman Billie Rhamy said. They all were released after being treated for their minor injuries.