Twister Devastates Two Iowa Towns

Nearly all of the 50 homes in this town were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were left without power Saturday after a path of storms tore across several states.

A tornado here left 15 people injured.

"When she hit, I just laid down on the floorboard and held on," Deputy Fire Chief Dennis Behnkendorf said. "Everything was flying past the door. I jumped onto the ground and held on for dear life."

While Iowa was hardest hit, Friday's severe weather knocked out power through parts of West Virginia, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Michigan authorities blamed three deaths on the storm - all due to trees falling on cars Friday. The weather was cited in one death in Ohio.

About 100 homes were flooded in Medina County in northeast Ohio, authorities said.
"You feel like everything you've worked for was taken away," Larry Barty said as he watched water pour through a ground-level window of his home.

Sherry L. Kohler, 45, of Medina, died early Friday when the car she was driving slid off a road and hit a tree in York Township, northwest of Medina, state Highway Patrol Lt. Cory Davies said.

Tornado Alley, a swath running from west Texas through Oklahoma and Kansas to Iowa, is ripe for stormy conditions because of colliding air masses that occur each spring.

In Iowa's Pocahontas County, sheriff's officers said a tornado moved through a golf course and cemetery in Rolfe, population 721, before ripping through Bradgate in neighboring Humboldt County.

The head of the state's homeland security department, Ellen Gordon, estimated that 90 percent of Bradgate's homes were destroyed or sustained major damage, and reported 10 known injuries.

Rolfe, she said, had five or six houses damaged and five reported injuries.

"It's amazing that no one was killed," said Brian Rickless, a Humboldt County sheriff's deputy. "I think word got out that a tornado was on the way."

Marina Meier said her home was caved in from the roof down and was moved about 20 feet off its foundation.

"Our couch was in the neighbor's yard," she said.

Mayor Martin Brown was at his farm outside town and was listening to a scanner when the tornado was heading toward Bradgate.

"I heard the Humboldt County sheriff calling for an ambulance. He said his leg was broke and the town was destroyed. We got here and he was right. It was destroyed," Brown said.

Gordman said the state was providing "temporary sanitary facilities for the community, plenty of bottled water, that type of thing."

Several thousand people across the state were without power.

Elsewhere, severe thunderstorms and a possible tornado swept across much of West Virginia, from the Ohio River to the Virginia border.

In northeast Ohio, where several rivers were near flood stage, 74,000 customers were without electricity. The storms toppled trees onto homes and cars in the area, but no serious injuries were reported.

The storms knocked out power to nearly 60,000 residents in West Virginia, and about 173,000 were dark in Michigan. At least 75,000 in Pennsylvania lost power in the storms and more than 16,600 customers were still dark Saturday morning.

Destructive straight-line winds hit parts of Michigan. Gusts of 95 mph hit the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and 99 mph gusts hit in Berrien County, Mich., the National Weather Service and police said.

In western Michigan, lightning struck transformers, setting buildings on fire. Up to 3 inches of rain fell in a 45-minute period - the equivalent of about 3 feet of snow - while gusting wind snapped trees and power lines.

Debra Joyce Simpson, 50, of Coloma, Mich., was killed when an oak tree was blown onto the car she was driving in Berrien County, the sheriff's department said.

Two other people killed in southwest Michigan died in separate, similar incidents, St. Joseph County authorities said.

At least two tornados touched down in central Nebraska, but no injuries were reported, the National Weather Service said. At least two farmsteads were damaged about seven miles north of Norfolk.