Cedar Rapids Weather
One Year Later: A Look Back on Iowa City's Devastating Tornado
By: Steve Nicoles, Reporter
People living in eastern Iowa this time last year will never forget the tornadoes. This is the one year anniversary of six tornadoes touching down in Jones, Johnson and Keokuk counties. One year later and a lot of work has been done, but there is still much clean up to do.
The dispatch calls came in fast and furious.
"We just saw a tornado rip the top off a church. We don't know if anyone's inside."
"Where's it at?"
"Court and Linn."
St. Patrick's church took the brunt of the storm.
Father Rudy Juarez said, "It's very much etched in our memories and our minds."
One year later and services are held in the parish hall. It could be another year before a new church opens on the eastern edge of Iowa City.
Another 911 call:
"We got debris everywhere."
"Is anyone hurt, do you know?"
"We don't know if anyone is hurt, but we have a lot of people in the building."
When people came out of basements they could not believe what they saw. Cars flipped upside down in the middle of the street. Trees smashed through windows.
One observer that night said, "Sixty mile an hour winds, power lines down, trees crushed cars."
The city and citizens are still putting the pieces back together. Historic homes on Iowa avenue lost their roofs.
A construction worker describing an apartment complex said, "In this situation the storm came over, took off the trusses, rafters, majority of exterior walls."
It was not just homes and businesses. Debris littered College Green Park. The next day clean up and rebuilding began. Three hundred and sixty-five days have passed and Iowa Avenue still has a hole where that apartment building stood.
Historic preservation commission chair Tim Weitzel said, "Its been very gratifying to see what citizen input can do to help keep the community growing and being vibrant."
The city has come together. At first people could simply stare at the destruction. But now the community has a bond as strong as sorority sisters.
Alpha Chi Omega tore down its building after the tornado did half the work.
Sorority member Leslie Jensen said, "So many memories that connected so many other alums to us."
They hope to have a new building on the same spot next year. And by the end of the summer most of the city should be repaired.
Iowa City spent $2.5 million on clean-up. Citizens have spent at least $3.6 million. Many of the hardest hit areas could be fully fixed by the end of the summer. But some buildings, like the sorority and church will not be up until at least next year.
E-mail Steve Nicoles at Steve.Nicoles@kcrg.com