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Traer Tornado Cleanup Swift For Some, Devastating For Others

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TRAER, Iowa — Three days after an EF-2 tornado tore through parts of Traer, the evidence of the downed trees was apparent in pockets on the city’s west side but the cleanup since Monday was also quite notable.

“It’s been a busy couple of days,” said Traer Mayor Pete Holden. “We had about 50 volunteers in town to help. As you can see, not a lot of damage left and they cleaned up a lot of these trees.”

Yet the damage remains after the tornado with wind speeds up to 120 miles per hour hit the Tama County town on Monday afternoon. On the southern edge of the city, an untouched, newer home sits next to a home with a car and a truck parked where a garage sat before the tornado ripped it away.

No major injuries have been reported from the tornado damage.

Lee Wiges knows he is one of the lucky ones. Living in his 1870’s-era home since 1974, Wiges oversaw the dissection of a massive backyard tree that may have been as old as Iowa itself. The tree crashed down in the tornado, just avoiding his house.

“One of the things when I was sitting out there was seeing all these clouds,” said Wiges about Monday’s storm. “Sounding like thunder all the time. It never let up. I thought, ‘is that what a tornado sounds like?’. Sounded like a freight train to me.”

Holden was able to provide a most unusual vantage point to witness the path the tornado took. He owns a hot-air balloon and, on a 25-minute journey Thursday evening with the gentle wind taking us south of town, the destruction revealed itself in Traer. South and west, hitting random homes and leaving plenty of properties with tree damage and some roofs now in need of repair.

“Those tornadoes usually travel in a straight line and this one took a hook and could have gone through the middle of town,” said Holden. “It took about 30 minutes for it all to sink in that we got clobbered.”

The destruction, while missing most of the city of Traer, has left an unthinkable mess at the farm and property of Denny Berger, four miles northwest of Traer. He was not home on Monday when the tornado ripped through but heard about it.

“When my brother called and says, ‘it’s not good’, at least we were prepared and he sent us pictures on the phone and we knew,” said Berger, who has lived on this property for 53 years. “You come back to total destruction. We had a shop, all this machinery storage, house, wind breaks. It was your family farm.”

About a dozen people were at the Berger farm on Thursday to organize the rubble and debris, setting some on fire, collecting other damaged items.

“You’ve got two choices, you can either throw up your arms and walk away or just tackle it head on,” said Berger.

Holden said the city applied on Thursday to declare an emergency for a disaster.

“Hopefully, we can get some refunding with some of the costs that we’ve incurred,” said Holden.

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