20 tornadoes in 3 states wreak havoc, kill multiple people in Iowa

20 tornadoes in 3 states wreak havoc, kill multiple people in Iowa
Continued severe weather threat on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Via ABC News

(NEW YORK) — For the fourth straight day, residents of the Midwest and the Great Plains were bracing for dangerous tornado weather, a day after at least 20 twisters tore through three states, killing multiple people in Iowa, officials said.

As severe weather is forecast to move into the south and east and stretch from New York state to Texas on Wednesday, the town of Greenfield, Iowa, was left ripped to shreds with about half the town destroyed, officials said.

A “devastating” tornado hit Greenfield, southwest of Des Moines, causing fatalities and injuries in the area, Sgt. Alex Dinkla of the Iowa State Patrol said at a news conference Tuesday night.

“It’s just gut-wrenching. It’s horrific. It’s hard to describe until you can actually see it, the devastation,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said at a news conference in Greenfield Wednesday morning.

Reynolds said search-and-rescue crews are continuing to look for victims.

The number of people killed and injured and the amount of damage were still being tallied Wednesday morning.

“This is a search-and-rescue mission and it will continue to be throughout the day,” said Reynolds, adding that officials don’t want to give out any misinformation.

She said, however, that much of the town of Greenfield was flattened.

Asked if dozens of homes were damaged in Greenfield and throughout the state, Reynolds said, “That would be way underestimating.”

The Adair County Memorial Hospital, which serves Greenfield, sustained tornado damage, Dinkla said, but still managed to treat patients and transport some to nearby hospitals for further care.

State Rep. Ray Sorensen, who represents Greenfield, said he was painting at a church when the tornado struck around 3 p.m. Tuesday and rushed into town to find numerous homes damaged or completely demolished and nearly all the historic trees in Greenfield uprooted and stripped of limbs.

“It’s a completely different town now,” Sorensen said.

But he said that when he arrived at the scene of the devastation, people were already clearing the streets of debris to make way for emergency vehicles and helping those injured get medical attention at a makeshift triage center established at a lumber yard.

“Everybody became little makeshift ambulances,” Sorensen said. “We pulled a guy from the rubble and put him on a little makeshift stretcher that we made, threw him in the back of a truck of a guy that isn’t even from Iowa and we just made our way to the lumber yard, which was the makeshift hospital.”

At least 329 severe storms were reported Tuesday through the nation’s midsection from Texas to Michigan, even up in New England. At least 20 tornadoes were confirmed in three states, including Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Most of the twisters swept across Iowa.

More severe weather is on the way. The highest threat for tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail will be in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, including major cities such as Dallas, Waco, Abilene, Little Rock and Shreveport.

Some damaging winds could also develop in Memphis and Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Rochester, New York.

Severe weather is also expected to stretch into Thursday as the Memorial Day weekend gets underway. Dangerous weather is expected on Thursday through large parts of the Heartland and parts of the South from South Dakota to Texas and east to Tennessee.

On Tuesday, the National Weather Service issued tornado watches for parts of Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Nearly the entire state of Iowa was under a “Particularly Dangerous Situation,” according to the National Weather Service, which issued several tornado warnings before the town of Greenfield was slammed by a funnel cloud.

Gov. Reynolds authorized a proclamation of disaster emergency for 15 counties across the state. On Wednesday, she said the state will ask President Joe Biden to approve federal disaster relief.

The counties include Adair, Adams, Cass, Clay, Hardin, Harrison, Jasper, Kossuth, Marshall, Montgomery, Page, Palo Alto, Pottawattamie, Tama and Warren.

Gov. Reynolds authorized a proclamation of disaster emergency for 15 counties across the state. On Wednesday, she said the state will ask President Joe Biden to approve federal disaster relief.

Several videos obtained by ABC affiliate station WOI-DT in Des Moines captured a large funnel cloud on the ground in Greenfield.

On Tuesday, WOI reporter Dana Searles, surveying the damage in Des Moines, said, “This small community has a big chunk destroyed, but about half of it is still intact. From what I’ve seen, I’d estimate that maybe 75% of it is near to the ground right now.”

In Yuma, in northeast Colorado, hail ranging from golf ball to softball size pummeled the area, causing damage to cars and buildings. At one point, the hail was so deep it caused multiple vehicles to get stuck, JJ Unger, a volunteer Yuma firefighter, told ABC News Tuesday.

“It was like a blizzard hitting for a half hour because of the hail,” Unger said. “That’s the longest I’ve seen it hail like that.”

Unger said he and his fire crew were out spotting for possible tornadoes Monday evening when lightning struck.

“It was very intense,” said Unger, adding that he and his crew had to pull over and seek shelter as visibility went to almost zero.

Unger said that when the hail finally let up, a foot of hail was covering his fire engine and roads in the area.

He said the windshields of his pickup truck and his wife’s vehicle were shattered.

“Almost every home in town has broken windows and I’ve heard that over a thousand cars were damaged,” Unger said.

In Nebraska, hail measuring two inches in diameter fell in Dundy County in the southwest corner of the state, according to local emergency management officials. Winds of over 90 mph were also reported.

More than half a foot of rain was recorded in Omaha, Nebraska, on Tuesday, producing major flash flooding in the area.

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