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At least 5 killed, dozens injured by Iowa tornadoes as powerful storms slam Midwest

Tornado leaves trail of destruction in Iowa town
Deadly tornado leaves trail of destruction in small Iowa town 02:32

At least five people died and dozens more were hurt as powerful tornadoes ripped through Iowa, with one carving a path of destruction through the small city of Greenfield, officials said Wednesday. 

The tornadoes destroyed homes and businesses, shredded trees and smashed cars, just weeks after tornadoes struck and devastated communities in other parts of the state. The latest storms also pummeled much of Nebraska with torrential rain, high winds and large hail.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety announced Wednesday night that four people were killed and at least 35 injured from the tornado that struck Greenfield, which is located in Adair County. At least 14 people were transported to medical facilities outside the county. 

ornado-damaged property in Greenfield, Iowa
Workers search through the remains of tornado-damaged property in Greenfield, Iowa, May 21, 2024. Charlie Neibergall / AP

"It should be noted that it is believed that the number of those injured is likely higher, but these numbers reflect only those patients treated for their injuries at designated alternate care sites," the agency said in a news release. 

In nearby Adams County, a female driver was killed Tuesday night when her vehicle was blown off the road by a tornado, the Adams County Sheriff's Office reported.  

The names of those killed were not immediately released. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for 15 counties across the state affected by severe weather and on Wednesday visited hard-hit Greenfield, a town of about 2,000 people approximately 55 miles southwest of Des Moines, to "assess the damage with local officials and start the recovery process." 

Remains of tornado-damaged homes in Garfield, Iowa
Workers search through the remains of tornado-damaged homes in Garfield, Iowa, May 21, 2024. Charlie Neibergall / AP

The governor called the situation "tragic" and "gut-wrenching" at a news conference in Greenfield on Wednesday morning. She told reporters that a huge portion of the town had been flattened in the tornado, with a number of homes and buildings, including the local hospital, either damaged or completely destroyed. 

State Rep. Ray Sorensen, whose jurisdiction includes Greenfield, said he and other residents pulled a man from rubble on Tuesday night and took him to a "makeshift hospital" set up in nearby lumber yard.  

The governor thanked hospitals in the surrounding area for treating the injured, some of whom were airlifted out of Greenfield, and emphasized that a search and rescue mission was still underway Wednesday to account for everyone in the town.

"It is still a search mission, as far as, we're looking to make sure all residents are accounted for," said Iowa State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Alex Dinkla. "When we have this many homes that have been destroyed and just fully demolished, we want to make sure that every resident, every person, is accounted for."

In the aftermath of the storm, parts of Greenfield appeared devastated. Mounds of broken wood, branches, car parts and other debris littered lots where homes once stood. Cars lay busted and bent while damaged houses sat skewed against the gray and overcast sky. Trees stood — barely — bereft of branches or leaves. Residents helped each other salvage furniture and other belongings from mounds of debris or from homes barely left standing.  

The Adair County Health System hospital in Greenfield was damaged in the storm, but Mercy One spokesman Todd Mizener said he had no further details. The hospital is affiliated with Mercy One, and officials were on their way to Greenfield to assess the damage.  

A wind farm near Greenfield suffered a direct hit from a powerful tornado that crumpled five of the massive, power-producing towers, including one that burst into flames.

wind turbine damaged Iowa tornado
The remains of a tornado-damaged wind turbine touch the ground in a field on May 21, 2024, near Prescott, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall / AP

Video of the direct hit showed frightening images of the violent twister ripping through the countryside, uprooting trees, damaging buildings and sending dirt and debris high into the air.

Several of the turbines at MidAmerican Energy Company's Orient wind farm recorded wind speeds of more than 100 mph as the tornadoes approached just before the turbines were destroyed, the company said in a statement.

"This was an unprecedented impact on our wind fleet, and we have operated wind farms since 2004," MidAmerican said.

CBS News obtained dramatic video captured by a tornado chaser in Adams County, Iowa, which showed a home being destroyed by a tornado, with debris swirling.    

Powerful storms spawn more tornadoes, flooding in Midwest
A tornado causes damage in Adams County, Iowa. May 21, 2024.  Ben McHone / LSM

As of Wednesday evening, about 3,500 homes and businesses in Iowa were without power, according to utility tracker, down from more than 32,000 Tuesday night. 

Camille Blair said the Greenfield Chamber of Commerce office where she works closed around 2 p.m. Tuesday ahead of the storm. She emerged from her home to describe widespread damage and scattered debris.

"There's a pretty significant roof damage to several houses that I know will need whole new roofs," she said. "And I can see from my house it kind of went in a straight line down the road."

What's next for severe storms impacting central U.S.? 01:15

Iowa was already braced for severe weather after the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center gave most of the state a high chance of seeing severe thunderstorms with the potential for strong tornadoes. Des Moines public schools ended classes two hours early and canceled all evening activities ahead of the storms.

Earlier in the day, residents to the west in Omaha, Nebraska, awoke to weather sirens blaring and widespread power outages as torrential rain, high winds and large hail pummeled the area.

More than 10,000 customers lost power in and around Omaha early Tuesday, and the deluge of more than 5 inches of rain in less than two hours in some areas saw basements flooded and cars submerged in low-lying areas. That downpour, combined with rain earlier in the nighttime hours, brought the total to 8 inches in the region, according to the National Weather Service.

Television station KETV showed video of several vehicles overtaken by rushing water on a low-lying street in north-central Omaha and firefighters arriving to rescue people inside.

Flooding washes out a road in eastern Nebraska. May 21, 2024.  bohemianlumberjack/Storyful  

While officials had not confirmed tornadoes in the area, there were confirmed reports of hurricane-force winds, said weather service meteorologist Becky Kern.

"We have a 90 mph gust measured at Columbus," Kern said. Columbus is about 87 miles west of Omaha.

Chris Bruin, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel, said the storms were likely to intensify as the night went on and produce "more destructive tornadoes."

Tornado watches were also in place south to Missouri and Arkansas, but Bruin forecasted that Iowa would likely see the "bulk of the worst conditions."

Parts of Illinois and Minnesota were also under threat of severe weather, with conditions also expected to worsen Tuesday night. The Chicago metropolitan area could see wind gusts up to 75 mph, with possible tornado activity, according to CBS Chicago meteorologists David Yeomans and Albert Ramon.

A dust storm near Bloomington in central Illinois forced Illinois State Police to shut down portions of Interstate 55 and Interstate 74 earlier Tuesday, CBS Chicago reported. Anyone caught in the storm was advised to pull over and turn off their lights.

The weather service also issued tornado warnings for portions of southern Minnesota.

The storms follow days of extreme weather that have ravaged much of the middle section of the country. Strong winds, large hail and tornadoes swept parts of Oklahoma and Kansas late Sunday, damaging homes and injuring two in Oklahoma.

Another round of storms Monday night raked Colorado and western Nebraska and saw the city of Yuma, Colorado, blanketed in hail the size of baseballs and golf balls, turning streets into rivers of water and ice. Residents cleaned up Tuesday using heavy construction equipment and snow shovels to clear ice that had piled up knee-deep.

The storm in Yuma shattered vehicle windshields, pounded the siding off buildings and broke many windows. lt also brought heavy rain to the city of about 3,500 people about 40 miles west of Nebraska, stranding some cars in the streets. The hail was still about a half-foot deep on Tuesday morning and front-end loaders were used to move it, said Curtis Glenn, a trustee at Yuma Methodist Church, which had flooding and hail damage.

Glenn, an insurance claims adjuster, said the combined sounds of the hail, rain and wind sounded like "a gun going off while you're on a train."

"It's not something you ever want to see or ever want to see again," he said of the storm, the worst he has seen in his years working in the insurance industry.

Last week, deadly storms hit the Houston area in Texas, killing at least seven. Those storms Thursday knocked out power to hundreds of thousands for days, leaving those Texans in the dark and without air conditioning during hot and humid weather. Hurricane-force winds reduced businesses and other structures to debris and shattered glass in downtown skyscrapers.

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