NWS Names Several Tornado Heroes

By Steve Nicoles, Reporter

IOWA CITY - The National Weather Service is recognizing the heroes who emerged during April's tornadoes. It recognized the Johnson County Emergency management for making the county storm-ready. And it honored the county dispatch for getting the sirens to go off. National Weather Service hydrologist Jeff Zogg said, "The nice thing about this with this scenario with this tornado is it went flawlessly. Everyone acted appropriately considering the situation and saved lives. The important thing here was for everyone to act quickly and that's what they did."

This is just the third time the National Weather Service has given out the hero award. It also recognized two other individual heroes: the priests at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Iowa City. They helped keep dozens of people safe from the tornado, which struck their church right after mass.

Through all the chaos surrounding last April's tornadoes, two men remained calm. Father Rudy Juarez said, "It was a peace and tranquility that I still can't explain to this day."

The storm came on what St. Pat's members call Holy Thursday, three days before Easter. Dozens of people lingered in the soon-to-be gutted building. They had about 20 minutes to escape alive. Juarez said, "We got everyone out of the church and out the door and through the patio and to the basement of the rectory."

Church members had to run outside, dodging golf ball-sized hail to get to the safety of the basement of the rectory. Sixty people including children and the elderly made it just minutes before the tornado hit. Deacon Jerry Miller said, "And there was a big thump and boom against the side of the wall. And someone jokingly said there goes the steeple."

It was no joke. The tornado ripped the steeple from the front entrance. It landed just a few feet from where the congregation had been minutes earlier. But because Miller and Juarez stayed calm and acted quickly none of the church members were hurt. Three months later and the national weather service is calling the men heroes. Juarez said, "I never thought of myself as a hero. I think I thought of myself as someone doing what needed to be done at the time."

Modesty is another trait often carried by heroes. Deacon Miller says St. Pat's the church will be back. As for the actual building, the parish is waiting for a damage report from its insurance company. The catholic community in Iowa City will eventually recommend to the Diocese of Davenport whether to rebuild the church.

Email Steve Nicoles at Steve.Nicoles@kcrg.com
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