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Fox News
Thursday, April 12, 2001


AGENCY, IOWA - AGENCY, Iowa Tornadoes cut paths across much of Iowa, killing two women and injuring two others who were volunteering at a community food pantry in the small town of Agency, just east of Ottumwa.

"With the number of cells that worked through the state, and the speed at which they were moving, we were very fortunate that there were not more fatalities and injuries," Emergency Management Division Administrator Ellen GORDON said after the storms ended Wednesday night.

Rescue workers had to dig through a pile of rubble to reach the victims at the Agency center.

Those killed are 73-year-old Mary Ellen HEWITT and 61-year-old Helen BACON, both of Ottumwa.

Two women were taken to Ottumwa Regional Medical Center. A fourth woman hid behind an old upright piano, the only thing in the garage-sized building left standing. She suffered only minor injuries and was not hospitalized, authorities said.

Wapello County Supervisor Jerry PARKER said cleanup was beginning the first thing Thursday.

Fire Chief Mike HOLCOMB said the town was without power much of the night and natural gas may remain off until later Thursday as workers clean up the mess.

"We have a lot of roofs gone, a lot of siding torn off and a lot of trees down," HOLCOMB said.

The twister ripped through a two- to three-block area of town just off U.S. Highway 34, Wapello County Sheriff Don KIRKENDALL said. The food pantry and two homes were destroyed. Nine other homes suffered major damage, and minor damage was reported to 47 homes.

"It started raining really hard and the wind started blowing. Then it just blew like whoosh," said Mary SHEPHARD, whose ranch style house was crushed by a huge tree. "I saw trees flying toward the house. And then I said 'Oh, my God. The roof just went off the house.'"

No walls remained standing in the community hall, with only the piano remaining on a foundation in the middle of the rubble after the tornado hit about 4:05 p.m.

Volunteer Helen Bacon, 61, of Ottumwa, was in critical condition with broken bones and multiple trauma, hospital vice-president Chad WOLBERS said. She was transferred to a Des Moines hospital.

Judy HEADLEY, 56, of Ottumwa and Diane GIBSON, 58, of Sigourney, were in fair condition.

In one yard, an elm tree about 4 feet in diameter was uprooted and lay sideways, a basketball still hoop nailed to its side. Against the side of another house, a motor home was smashed flat, with only its roof visible.

A garage was lifted and moved intact the length of a football field, while the car that had been inside was twisted and covered with debris.

Highway 34 was closed for about two hours as downed power lines were cleared, and traffic backed up.

"We've been fortunate over the years not to have many injuries in storms that moved through," said Gordon, the emergency management director.

"Last year, we had a death in the Dunkerton area in the northeast part of the state. There were two deaths in 1999, but we've been fortunate over the years compared to other states."

She said that's because Iowans take storm warnings seriously and seek shelter.

A tornado struck earlier in the day in south central Iowa about a mile east of Mount Ayr, which is 15 miles north of the Missouri state line. Ringgold County Auditor Kim O'MAILIA said it destroyed a vacant house and a mini-storage business along Iowa Highway 2, and tore the roofs off two other homes and some hog buildings.

"From what I could see on the highway, it looked like it was coming on a straight line," she said. "The north half of the highway is where the damage was. I really didn't see much on the south side."

The Mount Ayr tornado came from a storm cell that moved quickly northward through Ringgold, Madison, Dallas, Polk, Story and Hamilton counties, the National Weather Service said. The Agency tornado came from a second line of storms that formed later across the southern part of the state.

Minor damage was reported on farms in Clarke, Union, Shelby, Madison and Black Hawk counties. Tornadoes also touched down in Pottawattamie and Mills counties but didn't damage any homes, GORDON said.

Alliant Energy spokesman John RUFF said electricity was off in many areas.

"We had dealt with about 16,000 outages today across our territory in Iowa," he said late Wednesday. "We've had severe weather damage to our equipment all across the state."

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, September of 2009


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