Video: Click here to see tornado damage in Thurman, Iowa.
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THURMAN, Iowa — By the time an estimated 1,000 volunteers from four states left town Sunday evening, kids were playing in the city park again, power was back on in some homes and a significant amount of storm debris had been cleared from streets and yards.
“It was like watching a bunch of ants,” Mike Crecelius, Fremont County emergency management coordinator, said Monday. “Everybody was busy. When we walked through town at 7 o’clock last night, I was astonished at how much they had gotten accomplished.”
That said, there’s still plenty of work to do. Volunteers were allowed back into town at 9 a.m. Monday.
While officials still were working to assess damage from Saturday evening’s tornado, they’d tallied 14 homes that were destroyed. That’s a problem for a town that listed 238 residents in the last U.S. Census.
“Are they going to move back or are they going to lose population?” Crecelius said.
About 75 to 90 percent of the buildings in Thurman, a town about 40 miles south of Omaha, had some level of damage, Crecelius said.
Truck driver Kenny Reeves’ home was among the most heavily damaged.
The two-story house looked like a dollhouse a wall had been ripped off, leaving the rooms and furniture exposed for all in town to see.
As Reeves surveyed the damage Sunday, he said he’ll probably have to raze the house. The tornado left his belongings soggy and ruined.
About 15 tornadoes landed in Nebraska and Iowa Saturday, along with a freak hailstorm that flooded Norfolk streets with a slurry of rain and ice.
The most serious tornado damage was in Thurman and further east in the town of Creston.
While no one was seriously hurt in Thurman, the tornado did injure four truck drivers, one of whom was hospitalized with a punctured lung. In Thurman, a number of people suffered cuts and bruises.
A similar number of injuries occurred in Creston, but one person there was critically hurt.
Reeves' son, Eric, saw a positive in the Thurman storm — his father will get a fresh start.
“I think my dad deserves a three-story mansion,” he said.
But first, Reeves and his helpers have to clear out his salvageable possessions, including a copy of the tornado movie “Twister.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad issued an emergency proclamation Sunday for the southwest Iowa counties of Fremont and Union, which starts the federal aid process.
Fremont County experienced another disaster — flooding — last year. Thurman residents were safe from that, though their access to nearby Interstate 29 was restricted for several months.
The Thurman tornado followed a 10-mile path, causing damage that stretched for a half-mile, according to the National Weather Service.
It touched down 2 miles north of Percival, Iowa, progressed through Thurman and lifted 1 mile south of Tabor, according to the weather service. The tornado was rated an EF2, which indicates wind speeds of between 113 and 157 mph.
Power was still out throughout Thurman on Sunday evening.
Crecelius said no cost estimate of the property damage was available Sunday, though he might have a figure Monday.
Many affected residents planned to stay in their homes or with family Sunday night, though the American Red Cross kept open a shelter at Fremont-Mills High School in Tabor.
Neighborly goodwill was on full display Sunday afternoon.
“Hopefully it's something that will bring the town together,” said Mayor Rod Umphreys.
Thurman residents and about 300 other volunteers were able to clear much of the tree debris by Sunday afternoon.
Chain saws buzzed throughout town as the volunteers cut up trees and branches that had fallen. Other people, like Bob Norris of Shenandoah, loaded the tree debris into a truck.
His wife, Edi, raked trash from the park with others from their church. “You feel sorry,” she said.
By midafternoon, debris that had blanketed a central park was mostly removed, and children played on the colorful playground equipment.
But 71-year-old Joyce Dresher still couldn't find her two cats, Bo and Belle. She believed them to be gone.
“They were company to me,” she said.
She was still thinking about what transpired at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, when she sat in her bathtub, squeezing her eyes shut and listening to a window smash in her living room.
When she emerged from the bathroom, she saw that the home she shares with her son was beyond repair.
“I don't know where to start,” she said Sunday, looking at her muddy kitchen.
Kelli Perrin is all too familiar with a wrecked house.
Her house burned down three years ago in an electrical fire, and her family moved into a new home in Thurman in 2009.
Now, they will have to make more fixes. “It was a little scary,” she said.
World-Herald staff writers Michael O'Connor and Kirby Kaufman contributed to this report.
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* * * Tornado damage in Thurman, Iowa