DES MOINES, Iowa — Seven people were killed, including two children, when several tornadoes swept through central Iowa, damaging buildings and knocking down trees and power lines, authorities said.
Madison County emergency management officials said that four people sustained injuries and six were killed when the tornado hit the area southwest from Des Moines close to the town of Winterset at around 4:30 p.m. Two children below five years old were among the victims, as well as four adults.
Officials confirmed that one person died and several injuries were sustained in the Lucas County tornado, which struck just over an hour after it hit. It is located 54 miles (87 km) southwest of Des Moines.
From Saturday afternoon to Saturday night, thunderstorms that produced tornadoes swept through Iowa. Storms also caused damage in Norwalk (a suburb of Des Moines), and other parts of eastern Iowa.
Officials said that many homes had been damaged and roads blocked due to downed wires. Tree branches also were destroyed by strong winds. Around 10,000 people were affected by power outages in Des Moines.
These storms have been the most severe to hit Iowa in years. In May 2008, a tornado that destroyed almost 300 homes in Parkersburg and nine others killed nine people. A month later, another tornado struck the Little Sioux Boy Scoutranch and killed four young boys.
Des Moines National Weather Service tweeted early Sunday that there were at least three thunderstorms producing tornadoes, but it’s “unknown at this time how many tornadoes occurred.”
Meteorologist Alex Krull said it’s unusual but not unheard of to have serious storms like this in March in the Midwest. They are most common between April and May, he said.
According to scientists, extreme weather and higher temperatures are more common due to human-caused global warming. However, scientifically attributing a storm system to global warming requires specific analysis and computer simulations that take time, haven’t been done and sometimes show no clear connection.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Governor, issued Madison County a Disaster Proclamation. It allows for state resources to be used in response to and recovery efforts.
“Our hearts go out to all those affected by the deadly storms that tore through our state today,” Reynolds said. “Our hearts ache during this time, but I know Iowans will step up and come together to help in this time of need—they already are.”
Madison County Emergency Management Director Diogenes Ayala stated that 25-30 homes had been severely damaged.
“This is the worst anyone has seen in a very long time,” he said.
Wendy Burkett said that she was with her two daughters and her husband Tony Saturday afternoon. Tony called from their nearby shed and informed her of a tornado warning.
Burkett claimed that she went outside with him and looked down the driveway towards the southwest. “And then we saw it. The tornado,” she said. “There was debris flying around and it was getting louder and louder.”
As the tornado passed, they raced to their basement with their daughters. She said that as they held onto each other, the window shattering outwards caused water to start leaking from pipes.
Within a matter of minutes, however, the tornado had passed and the family survived. However, their home was utterly destroyed by the debris, not to mention the trees.
Saturday’s tweet from the National Weather Service in Des Moines indicated that it appeared to have been at least an EF-3 Tornado, which is capable of causing significant damage according to the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The National Weather Service in Des Moines tweeted that it would continue to investigate the damage and assess any potential ratings.
EF-3 Storms often have winds greater than 130 mph.
The storm that generated Saturday’s tornadoes hung together for roughly 100 miles from the Nebraska border into central Iowa but it won’t be clear until after the damage assessments are completed how long the individual tornadoes were on the ground.
This report was contributed by Julie Walker, New York Associated Press reporter.