Aftermath of Tornado

It’s been 6 days since a tornado changed the face of Marshalltown, Iowa. People seem to have an uncanny ability to remember and recall “where I was when XYZ tragedy occurred” right? This is mine.

The 3-minute experience: Two of my employees and I were working on preparations for our city’s annual art festival when cell phones blared storm warnings – but the sky looked normal. A bit later, a staff member from a neighboring business alerted us that a tornado was nearly overhead! We locked up and everyone in the building headed for the shared common basement. Three things happened in rapid fire order: the lights went out, a swooshing of air come at us from all directions, and it sounded and felt like a locomotive was speeding overhead. Then is was silent. (In the days that followed, we have tried to guess how long this lasted . . . my guess is less than three minutes.) Through prayers of “let this be OK” and then thoughts of “that can’t have been so bad,” we seven were in a daze!

“Do you think we can go back upstairs?” was the next question, and one by one we stumbled our way up in pitch blackness. Staring down the hallway that connects the two businesses, we saw the glass doors that had been locked standing ajar and a lot of debris inside the foyer. “Strange, but we can clean this up” I thought. Then we started to venture outside to see a war zone right in front of us!! “Dear God, this is unbelievable!!”

Each glance in every direction presented new horrors, big and small. Damage to the gorgeous historic Court House and the beautiful flower baskets made jaws drop! Here, signs that indicate the intersection of Center and Main (the heart of the city) were downed by a finial from the Court House.

The lot where we typically park had been impacted by tons of flying debris, and every car had some level of damage. Soon, city emergency personnel were out in force, warning of potential gas line failures and asking us to evacuate. It was time to assess the state of our homes!

For me, what is usually a 5-minute drive took over an hour! I live in a part of NW Marshalltown that was heavily damaged by the tornado. At every possible turn, my progress was blocked by fallen trees and/or power lines. Huge, mature trees downed by 140 mph winds were everywhere! They crushed through roofs and 2nd stories of homes and on top of cars! On my way home, I passed a pickup full of impromptu volunteers with huge chain saws – they were like Energizer Bunnies, attacking a blocked intersection with gusto. I had to stop and thank them!!!

Finally reaching my one-block long neighborhood, I almost fell to my knees to give thanks (except I was still driving). Every home was unscathed! The worst of our challenges was a short time without electricity and a few days without gas. Odd how you treasure these ‘taken for granted’ things when they are not present!

In short order, my business landlord determined we were one of the luckier locations downtown. Roof damage, 2nd floor windows, and a back door to the alley were our only ‘casualties’. This pales in contrast to the downtown buildings that lost façade, display windows, roofs and entire sections of their structures. My fervent hope is that people with vision and talent will start to look at this situation as an opportunity, and that resources are available to help restore and rebuild! It’s heartwarming to see signs popping up all over that declare “MARSHALLTOWN STRONG”. Whoever created the first sign can be saluted for setting the tone for recovery!

For weeks to come, I think our ‘how are you?’ conversations here in Marshalltown will be based on a new level of compassion. As I write, we’re still without power at the store, though the prognosis is good. For the sake of regaining normalcy, I hope to be open soon even though retail traffic might be completely absent for a while. The art festival was cancelled, but next year will be a true celebration of moving forward.

Readers: Take time to appreciate the decades-old trees in your environment – they are an irreplaceable treasure! Support your local small businesses – the owners need your encouragement! Get to know your neighbors – it’s vital in so many ways!!!

More photos that illustrate this story are on my personal Facebook page.
Pam Swarts

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