Monday, April 17, 2006

Tornado in Iowa City

My sister lived right in the path of the twister that came through Iowa City on April 13th. It missed her house by mere feet. (see photo at left)
She's allowed me to print her account of it here, as well as a link to some more great photos.

K's account:
"My impressions of last night. I was at a lecture by a visiting artist at the art building when the storm came. We spent the tornado time in the basement. I only saw the incredible lightning storm and shooter-marble hail that pummeled the magnolia tree outside the art building that had only a day before come into bloom. The lightning wasn't only the usual diffuse lightning we see here, but also crackling arms that reached out in the clouds and lit the ground for brief flashes that made your eyes spot.

I walked home from intermedia about 10:45, after a studio critique from which we were all distracted and after the storm was well past, and I was not expecting anything too bad. I'd heard some rumors about "a shed that fell out of the sky at Burlington and Clinton" or "at Washington and Dubuque" and some damage to the Dairy Queen.

[A] Fellow Intermedia grad student came with me, and as we walked by the Hydravlics (sic) Lab on Riverside and Burlington, we could see police lights flashing everywhere. There were droves of kids out, all with their cameras and phones, snapping pictures of the trees that were down along the river and the parking lots.

As we got closer to the Dairy Queen, the bike path became impassable because of the trees, but we went around and came upon a gigantic pile of red spoons and the smell of sugar as we crossed a little bridge at the back of the DQ lot. Upon arrival at the Dairy Queen itself, I was overcome by the distinct urge to get back to my house as-soon-as-possible because the Brazier was virtually destroyed, sheet metal and fiberglass insulation were littered all over, and there were crews trying to get downed trees and powerlines out of the road so traffic could start moving again.

(My math: DQ is about two blocks from my house, I knew that the tornado had hit Menards and WalMart, and my house lays on a straight line between the big box stores and the DQ. Oh crap I hope [my husband] and Sumi [the dog] are okay). Traffic was slowed to a snail's pace, and the scene felt simultaneously calm and chaotic. So many people were out gawking. The DQ employees, who hid with the customers in the basement and emerged unscathed, were handing out Dilly Bars before they melted -- it was like a weird carnival.

Luckily, [my husband] and some other friends who'd gone to check on him came walking up to us at that moment, saving me from worrying about his well being. A bunch of the car repair places and the car dealership on our corner were pretty trashed, with walls ripped out, glass blown from the windows, and the roof on the car dealership laying in the showroom on top of some SUVs.

[My husband] spent the whole time in the basement and didn't realize the tornado essentially came down Benton St. He was lured out by our neighbors shouting, "Holy Shit! Look at that! Dude!" He discovered that the source of their exclamations was was the large tree in our front yard, which had uprooted and toppled, leaving a four foot deep hole next to the sidewalk. It fell away from the road and missed smashing into the house by a matter of a foot or so. It crushed our fence and our beautiful white hydrangea bushes with its main trunk and limbs, and the outer branches came to rest on our roof and about half the back yard.

After checking in on Sumi (who was excited last night and anxious today) we decided to go be tourists downtown. Thursday night in Iowa City is the first night of the weekend for lots of the undergrads, so the many intoxicated party people were all out, drinking in public, crossing police lines, and trading stories. The atmosphere after something like this is always so lovely. I know that sounds awful to say, but people are so nice to each other, so open, more talkative than they would be otherwise with total strangers.

And everyone out yesterday night and today seemed to have two things: cameras, and stories. I think there must be 600 pictures of our uprooted tree (it was the first thing many people saw of the storm damage driving towards downtown from Benton), and the official post-tornado stance seemed to be one arm out, brandishing a cell phone and taking flash pictures.

We talked to people who'd seen the tornado come in from a vantage point at the top of the Benton St. hill and watched it wend its way across the city, a guy who'd been in the corner of a parking garage and heard six dumpsters in the alley booming up and down and came outside to the sight of overturned cars and a smashed in Happy Joe's Pizza building, the drunk guy who said he didn't care if he wasn't supposed to park on the lawn, the couple with matching headlamps who showed us a Vespa scooter, impaled by a 20' board, a sorority girl's boyfriend who was the self-appointed guard of a gas leak.

Everyone who heard the tornado characterized it the same way; they all said it sounded like an approaching freight train.

The sorority on Washington St. was pretty intense -- the east side outer wall and much of the roof got ripped off, turning it into a life-sized Barbie Dream House. This is one of the highest parts of Iowa City, and the worst damage to houses seemed to be on Washington St. and Iowa Ave. Trees in the area were sheared off at a height of about 20' and had no small branches left on them. A power pole with about 50 wires leading out of it had snapped in two, but the wires had the top transformer area suspended a few inches off the ground - all the art students thought it looked like a great installation.

Walking around in the dark, streetlightless night with the bright full moon and all these people out was oddly magical. The full extent of the devastation, seen in the dark, was obscured. We headed home about 1:30, sat in the dark of the house and drank some wine before going to bed.

Today, cleanup is beginning with great speed. By great good coincidence, my next door neighbor is an arborist. He had trees down in his yard and said he'd send his crew over to our place when they were done at his. So, much to my amazement, the huge tree and hole in our yard are gone already. I think that all the cleanup will take months, and some of the older parks and homes may never be what they were before the storm. Nobody died, and even the injuries the hospitals treated sounded fairly minor, so really, the city escaped what could have been a much more tragic event reasonably well intact."

I'm both glad she's ok, and a little envious.
I love natural disasters.


Blogger Boz said...

Dang, the pictures that you linked look just like the pics from the 1906 Frisco earthquake.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Juan Bodley said...

A good tornado is better than a good earth mover. Besides they don't let me operate tornados, and I suck at driving backhoes anyway.

12:09 PM  

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