Iowa Town Rebuilds, Says Twister's Scars Remain

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

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By Aaron Hepker

PARKERSBURG - The tornado that tore the heart out of Parkersburg on May 25, 2008 was stronger than anything in Iowa in 32 years. But it wasn't strong enough to crush the spirit on this Butler County community.

The twister that day started west of Parkersburg and then slammed nearby New Hartford to the east. Seven Parkersburg residents eventually died and the twister claimed two more lives in New Hartford.

The storm destroyed nearly 300 homes in Parkersburg and a number of businesses.

But on Sunday, community members gathered to remember what happened and celebrate an ongoing recovery.

Several hundred people gathered at Miracle Park in the afternoon to dedicate a new playground for the kids. The tornado that tore a path through the community destroyed the town's main park. Kids also lost access to play equipment at the heavily damaged high school.

Donors contributed more than $300,000 to create a new play area. In recent weeks, upwards of 500 volunteers came to install all the equipment.

Lt. General Ron Dardis, head of the Rebuild Iowa Office, participated in the celebration. Gen. Dardis said he's amazed at the progress and complimented the community on pulling together.

"When you compare other disasters to what happened in Parkersburg and see what's happened here within one year--it's just fantastic progress and I commend them for all their hard work," Dardis said.

Vince Clark, a FEMA spokesperson who was one of the first in that federal agency to go to Parkersburg, said "there was a lot of devastation--to see it come back is remarkable."

Town leaders estimate 75 to 80% of the homes lost are either back or under construction. The percentage of businesses that returned is just a bit smaller.

Both Parkersburg and New Hartford plan a series of events to mark the actual one year anniversary of the tornado on Monday.

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