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DES MOINES, Iowa – A myriad of unexpected tornadoes swept through the center of Iowa, injuring at least 17 people, plundering buildings in three cities and forcing the evacuation of one
Residents – and even weather forecasters ̵
Alex Krull, a meteorologist at the National Meteorological Service in Des Moines, said that the forecast models produced on Thursday morning had little chance of a strong thunderstorm later in the day.
"This morning, it did not look as if tornado double cells were possible," Krull said. "If anything, we expected that we could get big hail when strong storms arise."
Marshalltown, a city of 27,000 people about 50 miles northeast of Des Moines, seemed to have been hit hardest. Brick walls collapsed in the streets, roofs were blown up by buildings, and the dome of the historic courthouse plunged 175 feet to the ground.
The only hospital in Marshalltown has been damaged, spokeswoman Amy Varcoe said. All 40 UnityPoint Health patients were transferred to the larger hospital in Waterloo and the Grundy Center, she said.
The emergency department at the smaller Marshalltown Hospital remained open to treat patients who were injured during the storm, Varcoe said. Ten people injured in the storm had been treated, she said. She did not know how serious the injuries of these patients were. Marshalltown resident, Stephanie Moz, said she, her husband, and her two-month-old baby were in the downtown clothing store when tornado sirens went off. The family sought refuge in the basement of the building and heard "cracking and booms and explosions" as the tornado passed.
The storm broke a window, ruining clothing and hats and destroying her husband's vehicle. But she said she was relieved.
"We've gone through a tornado and survived," said Moz. "I am happy."
Additional funnels were reported as the storm passed Altoona, Prairie City and Colfax east of Des Moines.
Meteorologist Rod Donavon of the National Weather Service said two primary storms produced the tornadoes. One developed in the Marshalltown region and caused damage there, while the other began east of Des Moines and traveled through Bondurant to Pella.
The exact number of tornadoes and their strength will be determined later.
Iowa State Rep. Mark Smith, who lives in Marshalltown, told Des Moines Station KCCI-TV that the area is likely to be declared a disaster area. Smith said much of the downtown was damaged. He said his house and surroundings were spared, but the surrounding houses had been hit.
"There are houses with windows, houses without roofs," he said. "It's just an absolute mess."
Another tornado struck the agricultural machinery manufacturer Vermeer Manufacturing in the town of Pella, about 64 kilometers southeast of Des Moines. At this time people were still working in the factory. The storm scattered huge metal plates through a parking lot and left a building with a huge hole.
Seven injured women were taken to the Pella Regional Health Center, said hospital spokeswoman Billie Rhamy. They were all released after being treated for their minor injuries, Rhamy said.
Gov. Kim Reynolds told WHO TV in Des Moines that two of Vermeer's buildings in Pella have been destroyed by storm. She said Vermeer was hosting 500 customers for a revaluation day when the weather hit. She attributed to the company's security team that they had taken them all to safety.
Reynolds added that the state in Marshalltown provides a communication trailers and staff to maintain emergency communications there. She said that Marshalltown's building housing the local communications system was damaged.