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In Pella, tornado badly damages major employer

Vermeer was hosting 400 customers when the storm struck

A tornado is seen near Pella, Marion County, Iowa, U.S. July 19, 2018 in this still image obtained from a video on social media. BRANDYN VAN ZANTE/Twitter/via REUTERS     THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MUST ON SCREEN COURTESY ÒBRANDYN VAN ZANTEÓ
A tornado is seen near Pella, Marion County, Iowa, U.S. July 19, 2018 in this still image obtained from a video on social media. BRANDYN VAN ZANTE/Twitter/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MUST ON SCREEN COURTESY ÒBRANDYN VAN ZANTEÓ

More than 400 dealers and customers were visiting the Vermeer equipment manufacturing plant in Pella on Thursday afternoon when the alarms sounded.

All those drills paid off as employees and guests there for the 2018 Customer Conference scrambled to take cover.

About 4 p.m., a tornado the National Weather Service classified Friday as EF-3, with peak winds of 144 mph, made a direct hit on the plant.

Seven people sustained minor injuries and were taken to the hospital, where they were treated and soon released.

The weather service, which deployed a team Friday to Pella, reported the tornado cut a 400-yard-wide path. On the tornado rating scale, an EF-3 is considered strong. though the scale gets worse — up to a “violent” EF-5.

The last time Iowa saw an EF-5 was when Parkersburg and New Hartford were struck in 2008.

Vermeer — which employs about 2,700 in Pella — remained closed Friday as engineering teams analyzed the buildings.

“There is significant structural damage and personal property damage across the Vermeer campus,” the company wrote on its website.

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While some parts of the campus received little or no damage, two manufacturing centers “we believe, at this time, will limit our ability to continue operations.” the company said.

The company, founded by Gary Vermeer in 1948, is headquartered in Pella and has operations in China, Singapore, Brazil and the Netherlands, in addition to South Dakota and South Carolina.

It manufactures a broad range of equipment including hay balers, tree stump grinders and pipeline trenchers.

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