|By DOUG SCHMITZ
NICHOLS, Iowa — Severe thunderstorms ripped through portions of eastern Iowa last Thursday night, bringing golf ball-sized hail and damaging winds that knocked down trees, leveled buildings, and sparked tornadoes and twisters in at least four counties, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
“We have a path in the Nichols area that’s 4-5 miles long,” said Maj. Dave White of the Muscatine County Sheriff’s office last week.
White said a tornado in rural Nichols, 20 miles south of Iowa City, caused severe damage to a farm, tossed cars and semis off roads, torn off the roof of a nearby community center and later leveled a mobile home, where one unidentified woman was killed.
“It blew it off the foundation and the trailer rolled and basically disintegrated,” he said.
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack declared a state of emergency for Johnson, Jones and Muscatine counties.
The NWS in the Quad Cities also said five tornadoes touched down in Johnson County alone, swathing a 3.5-mile path through downtown Iowa City and the University of Iowa (UI), where half the roof of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was destroyed.
In addition, Iowa National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Greg Hapgood said 25 soldiers were deployed last Friday morning to provide security at the UI and downtown Iowa City, where several dormitories and buildings were severely damaged.
Ryan Gibney of rural Van Horne, Iowa called 911 on his cell phone after a tornado hit a building he was in collapsed on him on his parents’ Benton County farm.
Gibney, a senior majoring in business administration at Mount Mercy College in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said he really didn’t know what happened at first.
“Please,” Gibney told an Iowa City dispatcher. “I’m underneath a wall, the whole building collapsed. I opened the door right before it ripped the ceiling right off the side of the shop. I can’t get the door off me, I’m pinned right now. Please help me.”
Last Friday morning, Gibney told ABC’s Good Morning America he “thought that was going to be the end of it for me for sure,” where he was trapped for about 20 minutes.
The NWS said high winds, hail and one tornado were also reported in Illinois.
This farm news was published in the April 19, 2006 issue of Farm World.