Small western Iowa town reeling after tornado destroys about 100 homes

Hundreds of residents in Mapleton, Iowa, were displaced after the tornado on Saturday, but no serious injuries were reported. Hundreds of residents in Mapleton, Iowa, were displaced after the tornado on Saturday, but no serious injuries were reported. (Nati Harnik/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / April 11, 2011

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MAPLETON, Iowa — A tornado a quarter-mile wide flattened a grain elevator and destroyed homes and buildings on Saturday in the small western Iowa town of Mapleton.

The tornado damaged more than half of Mapleton, a town of 1,200 in western Iowa, Mayor Fred Standa said yesterday. He estimated that 20 percent of the town was razed, but no serious injuries were reported.

Many of the huge, centuries-old trees that the town was named for were pulled from the ground and wrapped around houses and tossed atop cars, Standa said. A huge motor home flipped on its side.

The tornado destroyed 12 to 15 blocks in the southwest corner of Mapleton when it struck about 7:20 p.m. on Saturday, Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt said.

About a hundred homes were destroyed and 500 to 600 residents displaced, he said.

The tornado was on the ground for 3 1/2 miles and measured three-quarters of a mile wide at one point, according to the National Weather Service office in Valley, Neb.

The twister was measured to be on the lower end of an EF3, which carries wind speeds of 136 to 165 miles per hour.

The twister was one of several reported in Iowa.

The National Weather Service said it was assessing damage in Sac, Pocahontas, and Kossuth counties yesterday after unconfirmed reports of tornadoes there as well.

In Mapleton, the roof was blown off a high school, power lines were downed, and gas fumes filled the town after utilities were damaged, prompting officials to shut off service. Pratt said gas service will remain off for the next two weeks, but electricity should be restored in the next day or so.

Governor Terry Branstad issued an emergency proclamation covering Mapleton and surrounding Monona County on Saturday so the state could spend money to respond to the storm, his office said. He toured Mapleton on yesterday afternoon.

The smell of natural gas hung thick in the air yesterday as forklifts and pickup trucks hauled debris down streets lined with fallen trees.

Tamara Adams, 37, piled branches on the curb, next to the 30-foot-tall tree that rested on top of her house. She said she closed her outside basement door just as the tornado tore the roof off a store that sits diagonally from her house.

“That sound,’’ she said. “I’ll never get it out of my head. It had a life. You could hear it breathing and growling.’’

Terry Siebersma, who runs a liquor store with his wife, was in his shop when he heard the tornado sirens and saw the sky turn green. Siebersma, 53, said he rushed to the basement. Upstairs, he heard bottles breaking.

He emerged several minutes later, walked to a back storage room and discovered the roof missing and one wall on the verge of collapse. top stories on Twitter

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