DES MOINES, Iowa – Stunned residents of nearby Winterset were reaching out to friends and neighbors Sunday after at least six people, including two children under 5 years old, were killed when a tornado raced through the central Iowa town.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for Madison County late Saturday night in response to a series of confirmed tornadoes triggered by a swath of severe weather that slammed much of the Midwest. More Iowa counties could be added to the proclamation, Reynolds said.
More than 100,000 homes and businesses across Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana and Iowa were dark at the peak of the storm. The killer tornado struck Winterset shortly after another confirmed tornado was reported near Corning, Iowa, 60 miles to the west in Adams County.
Des Moines International Airport halted flights and sheltered travelers in tornado shelters under the airport. In and around Winterset, a hamlet of less than 6,000 people on the southwest edge of the Des Moines metropolitan area, farms and businesses were ripped apart. More than two dozen homes were damaged or destroyed within seconds, authorities said.
"Our hearts ache during this time, but I know Iowans will step up and come together to help in this time of need,” Reynolds said in a statement. “They already are.”
DISASTER IN IOWA: Gov. Kim Reynolds issues disaster proclamation for Madison County after Winterset tornado killed 6
The National Weather Service said initial photos and videos of the damage suggest the tornado was at least an EF-3 tornado – such storms can drive winds in excess of 200 mph. The weather service said its teams would investigate further to assess the power of the twister.
Wendy Burkett said she and her husband stepped outside after getting the tornado warning.
"And then we saw it. The tornado," she said. "There was debris flying around and it was getting louder and louder."
The couple and their children scrambled into their basement. As the lay atop one another, trying to keep from getting blown away, a window shattered out and water began spewing from the pipes. It lasted maybe a minute, Burkett said.
Their home was destroyed, but "we didn't have a scratch on us," she said.
SHOCK, DESTRUCTION AFTER TORNADO:Iowans react to the 'severe' storm, tornado that hit Winterset
The storm was "the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced," Madison County farmer Jenn O’Neal said.
"Our ears started popping, it sounded like a vacuum,” said Jenn in an Instagram video that shows the wreckage of barns and other buildings on her farm. “We don’t have anything left except our lives and our house but I’m grateful for that, and everything else doesn’t matter."
Madison County Emergency Management Director Diogenes Ayala said the tornado struck at about 4:30 p.m. local time. Four adults were also injured, three with life threatening injuries, Ayala said.
Stacie Carter said she had been on her way to Des Moines with her granddaughter when she got a panicked call from her husband, who told her about the tornado and said she needed to get home as fast as she could.
She said her husband and daughter barely made it to the basement before the wind slammed the door behind him and the walls began collapsing.
Despite the devastation, she said she wasn't worried.
"I've lived here all my life," said Carter, who works at Winterset Memorial Hospital. "There were people down here helping us out right away. That's what we do here. That's Iowa people."
Contributing: Grace Altenhofen, Philip Joens and Matthew Bain, Des Moines Register