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Wide tornado cuts a swath through west Iowa town

Wide tornado cuts a swath through west Iowa town

April 10th, 2011 by GRANT SCHULTE, Associated Press in News

A large tornado flattened a grain elevator and destroyed homes and buildings on its weekend rampage through the small western Iowa town of Mapleton. Authorities reported no serious injuries.

"It was huge, just huge," said Thomas Mohrhauser, an attorney in the town of about 1,200 people. "It just kept getting bigger and bigger."

Mohrhauser said the tornado appeared to be about a quarter-mile wide when it cut a northwest path through town Saturday evening.

Mayor Fred Standa said one side of town got hit worse than another, but overall he thought about 60 percent had been damaged. He estimated about 20 percent was "almost flat."

Reports indicated the roof was blown off a high school, power lines were downed and several homes and buildings were destroyed. Authorities said three people were treated for minor injuries at Burgess Health Center in Onawa, about 20 miles from Mapleton.

"We had a few people with cuts," Standa said Sunday morning. "But nothing real bad, so we're lucky there."

The huge, centuries-old trees the town was named for had been pulled out of the ground and wrapped around houses and tossed on top of cars, the mayor said. In one case, a huge motor home had been flipped on its side, he said.

"It's not a pretty sight," Standa said. "It's something nobody has seen in this town."

The Iowa National Guard was on the scene, and the town remained barricaded Sunday morning.

"We're keeping everybody out of town until we decide that it's safe for people to come in," Standa said. "Because like I say, you can drive through streets and still smell gas."

Galen Bollig, who lives about 2 miles northwest of Mapleton, told the Sioux City Journal he saw the tornado form and come through town.

"When you first get into town, there's not a grain bin standing," he said. He added, "There's not a window left in a single car, and the garages are all lying flat."

Gov. Terry Branstad issued an emergency proclamation covering Mapleton and surrounding Monana County on Saturday so the state could spend money to respond to the storm, his office said. He planned to tour Mapleton on Sunday.

The tornado hit Mapleton, which is about 40 miles southeast of Sioux City, about 7:20 p.m. Saturday, National Weather Service meteorologist Van DeWald said. Authorities had no immediate calculation of its intensity.

Frank Boksa, a weather service meteorologist in Johnston, said another tornado touched down near the Sac County town of Early, but there appeared to be little damage.

KCAU-TV in Sioux City showed footage of gutted buildings, debris scattered across roadways and emergency vehicles with sirens flashing as crews searched the damaged and destroyed buildings.

"We're going door by door to make sure everybody's out," Joe Rodriguez, of Sioux City's Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, told KCAU-TV.

Monana County is in the same region of western Iowa where four Boy Scouts died in a tornado that struck a scouting ranch in June 2008. The National Weather Service said the tornado that hit the 1,800-acre Little Sioux Scout Ranch in the Loess Hills had an estimated wind speed of 145 mph.