Multiple tornadoes tore through central Iowa on Thursday night, taking forecasters by surprise and causing damage in several towns, though authorities had no reports of any deaths.
The hardest hit location appeared to be Marshalltown, a city of 27,000 people about 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. where brick walls collapsed in the streets, roofs were blown off buildings and the cupola of the historic courthouse tumbled 175 feet to the ground.
UnityPoint Health hospital in Marshalltown was damaged, spokeswoman Amy Varcoe said.
Varcoe said all 40 of its patients were being transferred to the health system’s hospitals in Waterloo and Grundy Center.
The Marshalltown hospital’s emergency room remained open to treat patients injured in the storm, Varcoe said. Ten people injured in the storm had been treated by 7 p.m. Thursday, she said. She did not know how serious those patients’ injuries were.
Marshalltown resident Stephanie Moz said she, her husband and 2-month-old baby were in the downtown clothing store she owns when tornado sirens went off. The family sought shelter in the building’s basement and heard “cracking and booms and explosions” as the tornado passed.
The storm broke out a window, ruining clothing and hats on display there, and destroyed her husband’s vehicle, but she said she’s relieved.
“We went through a tornado and survived,” Moz said. “I’m happy.”
Iowa State Rep. Mark Smith, who lives in Marshalltown, told Des Moines station KCCI-TV that the area likely will be declared a disaster area. Smith said his house and neighborhood were not damaged, but much of downtown and surrounding homes have been.
“There are houses with windows out, houses without roofs,” he said. “It’s just an absolute mess.”
Seven more people were injured after a tornado slammed into an agricultural machinery plant in Pella, about 40 miles southeast of Des Moines.
Vermeer Corp. Vice President of Operations Vince Newendorp told the Associated Press the east half of the company’s campus, which includes seven manufacturing buildings, sustained extensive damage.
Newendorp said says the plant activated its storm warning system and workers were in shelters when the storm hit, scattering huge sheets of metal through a parking lot and leaving one building with a huge hole in it. Vehicles were overturned and piled onto others.
Vermeer spokeswoman Liz Sporrer told the Des Moines Register that the business was hosting visitors for a special event when the tornado struck.
“We’re carefully walking through, making sure everyone is getting taken care of,” Sporrer said. “Our No. 1 priority is to get team members safely home.”
Pella Regional Health Center spokeswoman Billie Rhamy said the seven injured people were treated at the hospital and had been released.
Weather forecasters said the tornadoes formed suddenly and took them by surprise.
Alex Krull, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines, said that forecasting models produced Thursday morning showed only a slight chance of strong thunderstorms later in the day.
“This morning, it didn’t look like tornadic supercells were possible,” Krull said. “If anything, we were expecting we could get some large hail, if strong storms developed.
Additional funnels were reported as the storm moved east of Des Moines past Altoona, Prairie City and Colfax.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.