Tornado victims pick up the pieces

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fred Everts held back tears as he surveyed a pile of splintered wood and metal scraps that the day before had been his home.

Several yards away, a makeshift sign was placed amid the rubble to remind Everts and others that they were in Russell Circle, once their street.

"We have no place yet," said the 85-year-old, who lived in the home with his wife. "We were trying to get it cleaned up and save the stuff that's precious to us."

Everts was among hundreds of Parkersburg residents picking up what was left of their lives in the small northeast Iowa town.

On Sunday afternoon, a deadly tornado swept through Parkersburg, destroying more than 200 homes and damaging hundreds more. The tornado killed six people, including four in Parkersburg. Two others died in nearby New Hartford.

"You really are overwhelmed when you see it," Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said after touring the area. "You can't imagine this kind of devastation, homes completely gone. And to see people trying to sort through their belongings is very difficult."

Rescuers were still picking through the ruins in search of victims early this week. In addition to those killed, about 70 people were injured, including two in critical condition.

The number of buildings damaged was staggering: 222 homes destroyed, 21 businesses destroyed and more than 400 homes damaged. Among the buildings destroyed were the city hall, high school and the city's sole grocery store and gas station.

"There's so much hurt here, I don't know where to start," said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who owns a farm near New Hartford.

Diane Goodrich rode out the storm in her basement with her husband and three neighbors.

"The noise was just unbelievable," said Goodrich, taking a break from searching through the ruins of her home. "Our ears were popping. We could hear trees flying over us. We could hear every piece of furniture that left the house."

Her husband, Virgil Goodrich, is Parkersburg's economic development director. Holding an unopened bag of socks he'd found in the debris, he waved his hand at the surrounding devastation and quipped, "I can't economically develop this."

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