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Tornadoes cause injuries, severe damage in central Iowa

Pella's Vermeer plant, downtown Marshalltown take hits

Images of damage throughout the Marshalltown, Iowa downtown area following a tornado on July 19, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Joel LeWarne)
Images of damage throughout the Marshalltown, Iowa downtown area following a tornado on July 19, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Joel LeWarne)
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Tornadoes touched down Thursday evening in three Iowa communities, causing “catastrophic damage” in Marshalltown and injuries in Pella as the Vermeer equipment manufacturing plant took a “direct hit,” the National Weather Service reported.

No deaths had been reported as of 9 p.m. Thursday, but authorities in both communities were dealing with natural gas leaks and closing the cities to incoming traffic.

A 9 p.m. curfew was set in Marshalltown as crews dealt with storm debris.

Source: National Weather Service data. Map by John McGlothlen / The Gazette

Seven people were taken from Vermeer to the Pella hospital, where they were treated and released, Pella police Lt. Shane Cox told the Des Moines Register.

Vermeer CEO Jason Andringa said several buildings had structural damage. Work at the facility has been canceled for Friday.

Hundreds of visitors were at the plant Thursday for a “customer appreciation” day celebrating Vermeer’s 70th anniversary. All were accounted for, Andringa told the Register.

Images in photos and videos taken by employees at Vermeer and posted on social media showed cars damaged and tossed by the wind into piles.

Vince Newendorp, Vermeer’s vice president of operations, told the Pella Chronicle that all plant employees had taken shelter by the time the storm hit, around 4 p.m.

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“We got really lucky,” Vermeer employee Paul Davidson of Newton told the Chronicle. “It could have been a lot worse.”

Davidson said employees had plenty of warning, a good 20 or more minutes before the storm hit.

They were beginning to get began restless as they sheltered, but then the pressure dropped, he said. Soon after, the lights went out and the wind began ripping.

The Vermeer plant has seven plants on the milelong campus.

Pella police reported spotting a funnel cloud west of the plant about 3:50 p.m.

Marshalltown

Farther north in Marshalltown, debris from buildings filled Main Street.

The tornadic winds hit at 4:55 p.m. and ripped the clock tower off the courthouse and the tops off businesses and homes.

About 70 children were at a day camp at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum near downtown. When the tornado sirens went off, the children were quickly ushered to the basement, the Register reported.

Pictures show heavy damage to the Lennox Industries plant, as well as downed trees and damaged homes and cars.

The National Weather Service said a trained weather spotter reported “catastrophic damage, including vehicles missing, vehicles overturned” and building damage in Marshalltown.

Alliant Energy reported power was out to 9,800 customers in Marshalltown. That included the Marshalltown Times-Republican, where newspaper staffers were moving to Tama to publish the paper.

Elsewhere

Earlier in the day, storms slammed into Bondurant, near Des Moines, around 3 p.m., where 12 homes were reported damaged.

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In Ottumwa in south-central Iowa, state police spotted a rain-wrapped tornado at 5:12 p.m. near the Ottumwa Airport, but there were no reports it had touched down.

Elsewhere, there were reports of hail east of Cedar Rapids and heavy rains throughout Eastern Iowa.

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