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Tornadoes tear through Central Iowa

The Marshal County Courthouse was severely damaged in the storm. Contributed photo.

By Ben Mikek

Grinnell has been lucky compared to many parts of Iowa this summer, where multiple tornadoes have caused severe damage and various injuries.

According to the National Weather Service, 39 tornadoes have been reported in the state so far this year. The worst day for tornadoes in nearly three years occurred on July 19, when 21 touchdowns occurred throughout the state. Most of those caused no injuries, but two serious events caused a total of 35 injuries, but no deaths.

The worst tornado of the summer passed through central Marshall County on an eight-mile-long path, including Marietta, the central business district of Marshalltown — just 23 miles northeast of Grinnell — and several surrounding neighborhoods. The tornado caused 22 injuries during just 23 minutes, starting at 4:24 pm on July 19.

The National Weather Service rated the tornado a category EF3, meaning that wind speeds exceeded 135 miles per hour. A second EF3 tornado occurred about 20 minutes earlier and passed just northeast of Pella, about 24 miles southwest of Grinnell. That tornado injured 13 people.

In Marshalltown, the tornado destroyed several roofs and cars and damaged brick buildings surrounding the town square. It also knocked down the top of the courthouse cupola.

The monetary extent of the damage remains unclear, but Alliant Energy said in a statement given on July 20, 2018 that more than 5,000 people lost power after the storm struck.

The tornado also damaged the facilities of two of Marshalltown’s largest employers, Lennox International, a heating and air conditioning company, and JBS Swift & Co, a beef processor. Lennox International, according to a company press release, lost about $80 million in equipment and cleanup costs, and expects another $100 million in lost revenue.

The Des Moines Register estimated that between the two large employers, as many as 3,000 jobs have been impacted.

Lynn Olberding, Executive Director of the Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce, was also unsure of the precise extent of the damage.

“The greatest needs for the business community have been working through the insurance process and determining what programs might be available to assist,” Olberding wrote in an email to The S&B.

Even though six weeks have passed since the storm, Marshalltown remains in a state of emergency, as government officials and residents start taking steps to rebuild.

Businesses, according to Olberding, will be a central part of that effort.

“The [Small Business Administration] was in the community approximately two weeks post-tornado and offered low interest loans to small businesses, homeowners, and renters,” she wrote. “We are encouraging residents and visitors to support our impacted businesses who have reopened.”

Some local companies are also stepping up to the plate. Lennox International announced in a press release that they would be donating a total of $500,000 to local charities in the wake of the tornado. JBS announced $1 million dollars in charitable and investment spending in Marshalltown.

Nevertheless, Marshalltown residents face a years-long recovery period. While no one is sure quite how long it will take for life to return to normal, Olberding said that “most who have experience[d] a natural disaster have said [it takes] 4-5 years.”

Despite the potential for long-term difficulties, though, Olberding is optimistic about the future.

“In the long run, I believe Marshalltown will be a better and stronger community as a result of the tornado,” Olberding said. “There are small successes happening every day, but we all know there is a long road ahead.

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