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Eastern Iowa begins cleanup after ‘tornado outbreak’ destroys buildings, tosses cars
Governor approves state assistance for six Eastern Iowa counties
A powerful line of storms — including several suspected tornadoes — swept across Eastern Iowa Friday, toppling trees, flipping cars and tearing roofs off homes.
An initial overview by the National Weather Service called the storms “a tornado outbreak that this area has not seen in quite some time.”
Storm survey crews were headed out Saturday morning to begin assessing damage. The exact report on Friday’s storms — including confirmation that there were tornadoes and the tornadoes’ rating — may take several days.
⧉ Related article: Eastern Iowa begins cleanup after ‘tornado outbreak’ destroys buildings, tosses cars
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Friday night she had approved activation of state assistance for seven counties in southeast Iowa: Cedar, Clinton, Delaware, Johnson, Keokuk, Mahaska and Washington.
Adding Keokuk! https://t.co/rND2TDi2dX— Gov. Kim Reynolds (@IAGovernor) April 1, 2023
‘God did his work’
Coralville was among the hardest hit areas with significant building damage reported along the strip to Boston Way, near Coral Ridge Mall.
From the third floor of her Ninth Street apartment just north of the Coralville strip, Aanice Byars, 45, said she witnessed something Friday night she never imagined, striking in her fear and awe.
“God did his work,” she said. “That’s all you could say is God did his work … I’ve never seen wind move like that.”
Far from the cover of a basement or a storm shelter, Byars told The Gazette she feared for her life as she watched uprooted trees and debris swirl outside her window.
“It was like the wind walked straight through,” she said. “And you just saw everything was just spinning in the air.”
The storm surge, Byars said, was louder than a train and strong enough to elevate cars.
“It lifted those cars up. It was like those cars were having a tournament, like a fight,” she said. “I couldn't believe how they were spinning. They were up in the air.”
Throngs of community members came together in the wake, taking chain saws to uprooted trees, dragging debris from driveways, and loading up cars with food and clothes for residents seeking another bed for the night.
The Red Cross set up a shelter at the Coralville Recreation Center, 1506 8th St., Coralville, to provide a place for people whose homes were damaged.
Byars said her unit wasn’t damaged, even as she looked around at her devastated neighborhood.
“I did not know God could work like that,” she said. “He showed me how to pray in the middle of a storm.”
A block north off 10th Street, 20-year-old Evelyne Macakina pointed to her family’s trampoline — thrown from her yard to the neighbor’s tree.
“I was downstairs, and I just heard my little brother, cause my little brother was on my grandma’s back, and I heard him screaming,” Macakina said, recalling their mud-splattered clothes. “They were all covered with the brown stuff. But my grandma and the baby, they were all fine. They made it downstairs.”
Farther north of the Coralville strip, homes suffered less damage but significant debris — including sheets of metal and plywood — dropped from the sky.
“All of the sudden it just came from above,” said Chris Killion, who stayed up on the main level of his house to watch the storm blow through.
‘The whole house shook’
South of Iowa City, the town of Hills sustained major damage to buildings whose roofs and walls were torn off or flattened.
Jacob and MacKenzie Dilks were prepared for their lives to change when Mackenzie, 29, delivers a baby by C-section next week. But they didn’t know they wouldn’t have a house to come home to after the baby arrives.
The tornado that touched down in Hills Friday evening tore off the Dilkses’ roof and peeled back a wall, but the family — including toddler, Owen, and two dogs — was safe in the basement.
“The whole house shook,” Jacob Dilks, 28, said. “You could almost feel it pick up and settle back down.”
Less than an hour after the storm came through, the couple’s family and friends arrived to help remove items, including medicine for Owen, who has spina bifida, as well as dog supplies, clothing and valuables. Owen and Mackenzie sought refuge with family, while Jacob oversaw work at the house.
“He turns 2 tomorrow,” Dilks said of Owen. “Happy birthday.”
At least a dozen houses were severely damaged on the west side of Hills, just east of Highway 218. In a second-floor dining room now left without a wall, a ceiling fan spun, powered by the wind that picked up again as the sun set. Debris including a floor lamp, shoes, a roll of wrapping paper, a highway sign saying “Mt. Pleasant”, shredded insulation, shattered plastic from the Casey’s sign and crumpled metal littered the area.
Sisters Esther and Hope Mukiza, 13 and 10, respectively, were helping pile debris. They walked from their home a few streets over to help out.
“We felt really bad for everyone whose houses got destroyed,” Esther said.
Kathy Miller drove from her house in Frytown to Hills to get her brother’s cat, Little Miss, who rode out the storm by herself because Gary Beckley is in Dallas watching the Iowa Women’s Basketball team play in the Final Four, Miller said.
“They are going to cut it short and come home tomorrow,” she said. Beckley’s tan two-story has heavy exterior damage and water damage inside, Miller said.
The National Weather Service’s forecast that severe weather was likely put the risk at “high” — a 5 on a 5-point scale Friday morning. The last time it issued a warning that severe was almost nine years ago in June 2014. The storms Friday brought heavy rain, hail and strong winds in addition to the probably tornadoes.
Marissa Payne of The Gazette contributed to this report.
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