Mayor: Over half of Iowa town damaged by tornado

MAPLETON, Iowa (AP) - 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 National Weather Service had dispatched a team to assess damage. While the town had been barricaded because of safety concerns about gas leaks and other damage, Standa said it reopened Sunday morning.

Jamy Garden, 37, wandered through her back yard in a blood-splattered hooded sweat shirt, her right hand and left knee wrapped in gauze. Around her lay a mess of tree branches, twisted siding, broken glass and a canoe that wasn't hers. Garden said she was sitting at home when her house began to rumble. The windows exploded, spraying her with glass. Garden took refuge in the basement, using her cell phone as a flashlight, and called her grandparents in tears. The house she has lived in since December survived, but everything inside was tossed around. Her two dogs were safe, but she hadn't yet found her cat.

"I don't know where our gazebo went," she said. "The garbage can right there, that was in the front yard. The shed is gone. I don't know what else to tell you. This is the most tumultuous thing I've ever experienced by far."

Terry Siebersma, who runs a downtown liquor store with his wife, was manning his shop when heard the tornado sirens and saw the sky turn green. In the distance, he saw the twister swirl into view.

"It was almost like the movies," he said. "It was loud really loud." Siebersma, 53, said he rushed to the basement. Upstairs, he heard bottles breaking. He emerged several minutes later, and the store looked fine. He said he walked to a back storage room, and discovered the roof missing and one wall on the verge of collapse.

"We were very, very lucky," he said. "I almost feel guilty."

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 but fog forced his helicopter to land 100 miles away in Fort Dodge. It was unclear when he would get town.

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.

The weather service was assessing damage Sunday in Sac, Pocohontas and Kossuth counties after unconfirmed reports of tornadoes there. Kevin Skow, a meteorologist based in Johnston, said minor injuries were reported but no deaths.

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.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)