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The damage after severe storms and tornadoes in Iowa


Deadly tornadoes ripped through Iowa yesterday. The town of Greenfield had some of the worst damage after a direct hit from a powerful tornado. About 2,000 people live there. NPR's Frank Morris visited today and talked with some of them. Hi, Frank.


SHAPIRO: Governor Kim Reynolds has declared several counties disaster areas. She toured Greenfield and so did you. What did it look like in person?

MORRIS: Well, you know, it looks like a giant mulching mower came through the southern end of this tiny little town, cutting down and chewing up everything in its path and then spitting it all out across the landscape. You see it in person, it's like tiny, little pieces of wood and glass and car parts and insulation mixed with toys. And, you know, everything's dirty. It's just a slurry of stuff. Zeke Chafe was trying to salvage some things from his shattered home today, past his thoroughly crumpled up Jeep.

ZEKE CHAFE: My car is probably half a block that way, and my Jeep ended up in my kitchen. A lot of the neighbor's stuff is in my living room, you know? So where's my stuff? I don't even know. I mean, it's somewhere.

MORRIS: Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds called the destruction horrific. The school has been functioning as a triage center and will be closed for the rest of the school year. That said, the whole town wasn't destroyed. The historic and picturesque downtown is just fine. And I'm told houses on the north side of town look the same as they did the day before yesterday.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about injuries and deaths from the storms?

MORRIS: Officials have been treating this as a search and rescue effort, and they haven't disclosed the numbers of dead or injured. This afternoon, they were still out digging through splintered rubble and spray painting OK on buildings and vehicles without victims. Alex Dinkla, spokesman for the Iowa Highway Patrol, says they won't say how many people died today or were seriously hurt. It's not hard to find people in Greenfield to talk about this, though.

I spoke with a woman whose elderly neighbor was sucked out his front door and thrown into his garage. And she found him in a daze, all cut up, and did what she could to stop the bleeding, wrapped him in a blanket and waited for paramedics. And then she went on to the next injured neighbor and then the next one. Another woman I spoke with said she was haunted by seeing an elderly woman and her two grown sons sitting, just, you know, staring out into space on the front steps of their utterly destroyed house after being pulled out of the wreckage. And these are not strangers. In a small town, most people know most people. And Willard Oleson's been there since the 1970s.

WILLARD OLESON: With all the power out, I don't know what's going on. I'm not even up to date on what the count is. You know, I just know a couple of my friends died yesterday. And there were a number of unaccounted for, so...

SHAPIRO: Oh, that sounds just terrifying. This has obviously been devastating for Greenfield and other towns in the region. Can you say how strong the tornado was?

MORRIS: So there's a preliminary rating from the National Weather Service for the Greenfield tornado as an EF3 - that is, at least 136-mile-an-hour wind gusts. Crews were still out assessing the damage today, though, and I spoke with a couple of people who were doing that from the National Weather Service. And they said they'll have a final assessment in a few days and maybe elevate it to EF4. People in Greenfield have already decided that it should get the top rating, EF5. Meantime, the town is pretty well locked down to prevent looting.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Frank Morris covering the severe damage from those tornadoes in Iowa yesterday. Thanks, Frank.

MORRIS: You bet, Ari. Catch you later.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLYING LOTUS' "FF4") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.
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