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By Staff | Apr 15, 2011

Amy and Isaac Copeland look into what’s left of the house they rented on First Street in Varina. The couple, who hadn’t purchased renter’s insurance, moved to Iowa from Colorado last November. They were able to save some of their belongings, and the first thing they found was the baby blanket she made for the couple’s second child, due in August.



For Farm News

VARINA – The Purple Heart landed in the kitchen.

A living room curtain dangled in the broken limbs of the neighbor’s tree.

A hug helps in any occasion. Eldona Hornor, in the pink, who lives north of Varina, hugs Ruth Nagengast, 80, whose home, behind the women, was damaged by Saturday night’s tornado that ravaged Varina.

Snakes curled in a bunch in the yard to the east of the St. Columb-kille school.

Stories abound in Varina, population 90, in the wake of a tornado that blew through the Pocahontas County town on Saturday evening. And as the stories were told, family helped family through the devastation. Neighbors helped neighbors.

For the numerous looky-loos trying to check out the damage Sunday afternoon, it was enough to see tufts of pink insulation hanging off tree branches or tucked into fence lines, to see fields strewn with chunks of steel buildings and broken and cracked 2-by-4s and other wood, to see giant trees twisted in half, many uprooted.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declared a disaster emergency in Pocahontas County, though he wasn’t able to visit the area on Sunday. Impending bad weather made it impossible for him to fly into the area.

His proclamation, however, allows state resources to be used in cleanup efforts.

Darlene Koele, who lives just east of Varina with her husband, Keith, looks at a damaged photo of her stepson, Shane, who was killed in Afghanistan six years ago. His purple heart was found in the kitchen of the house that was severely damaged. Koele said they were in the basement when they heard the "horrible, horrible sound" of the tornado hitting the home.

In Varina, no one waited for the state to step in. Bringing to life the town’s motto – A Little Town With a Big Heart – people flooded into town with chainsaws and front loaders, tractors and chains. By late afternoon Sunday, many of the damaged trees had been taken down completely and cut into smaller chunks. Brush piles on the south side of the city continued to grow as tractors and trucks dragged piles of brush from homes.

The damage went out of town, too.

Darlene and Keith Koele, who live just outside of town to the east, salvaged whatever they could find from their home. The couple and their five pets waited out the storm in the basement, but neither expected such total destruction when they came upstairs.

“It was a horrible, horrible sound,” Darlene Koele said. “Mostly, glass breaking and furniture rumbling around. We didn’t hear the roof go off.”

She said they hadn’t been in the basement long before the tornado hit.

Patty Crotty, of Varina, and her son, Travis, in the blue shirt, walked around Varina on Sunday afternoon helping wherever they could. The Crotty home was not damaged in Saturday's tornado. With them was Evan Archer.

“I was stubborn and didn’t want to go down, and my husband made me,” she said. “Two tornadoes went by. When one was gone, we opened the door, and one of the dogs ran out. Then we heard the second one and ran back downstairs. We found the dog huddled in the sectional.”

It was overturned and in pieces.

With almost total destruction, Koele said the tornado did nothing to her computer room. It didn’t even blow papers around. But what was most valuable to them – the Purple Heart awarded to his son, Shane, who was killed six years ago in Afghanistan, was found in the kitchen.

“We have three vehicles,” Darlene Koele said. “Not one is drivable.”

In Varina, Ron and Mindy Gehrig, of Fonda, walked across an empty lot to the east of the old St. Columbkille school, which lost much of its roof.

St. Columbkilles School in Varina was heavily damaged in Saturday's tornado in Varina. The school is used for many community functions.

“Watch out for snakes,” Mindy Gehrig murmured. “We saw a bunch of them earlier. One big one and a bunch of others all in a group.”

“They must have lost their home,” Ron Gehrig said, as he stopped to shoot pictures of the school he once attended. His mother, Norma Gehrig, lives in Varina. “She was fortunate,” he said. “She lost some siding, shingles and trees. The trailer house beside her was taken – how that happens, I don’t know.”

Ruth Nagengast, 80, lived alone in her home on First Street and was in the basement when the tornado struck.

“She had been to the basement earlier and came up, but went back down,” said her daughter, Janice Halder, postmaster of Varina. “She said she could hear everything moving above her. The house moved on its foundation.”

Nagengast stood in front of her home Sunday afternoon when a friend, Eldona Hornor, hugged her. Just a friendly bit of encouragement for someone still dazed by nature.

“I was surprised the house was even there,” Nagengast said. “It was like a train going over. I could hear everything hitting my home. There was so much noise banging around. This isn’t any fun when you’re 80.”

Halder, who lives about four miles north of town, said the post office roof was damaged in the storm, and there were a few leaks on the flat roof, but otherwise the building was in good shape.

A home a few doors to the west of Nagengast on First Street was rented by Amy and Isaac Copeland, who moved to Iowa from Colorado in November. The couple took refuge in the basement, where their 8-year-old son Dillon was injured by a falling chimney. He was taken to the hospital in Storm Lake, where he stayed overnight with minor injuries.

The house was destroyed, although the couple was able to save two small trailers of belongings.

“All this happened in 15 seconds,” Amy Copeland said.

The house just collapsed, leaving the basement exposed. When the tornado passed, the couple pushed a sofa on its side next to the wall and crawled out of the house.

“We’re hoping tomorrow as we uncover some of this, we can find more of our stuff,” Isaac Copeland said. “That’s our curtain there in the neighbor’s tree.”

The first thing they found Sunday is the quilt she made for the baby she’s expecting in August. It had a small tear in the binding, but that’s all.

Back to the east of town, Mike Brabec stood outside his home looking at mangled machine sheds.

“We lost power so I just went downstairs and listened to the battery-powered radio,” he said. “The storm blew the window out, and gouged the siding. When that window blew, we had glass all over everything.”

His dad, Ken Brabec, added, “the storm sucked the insulation out of the attic and that’s all over the house.”

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or smickelson@messengernews.net

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By Staff | Apr 15, 2011

Neighbors stand just north of the area that used to be a machine shed, but now is debris. In the background, corn is being augered into a semi for storage elsewhere. The Dale and Sandy Ullrich farm lost two bean bins, two corn bins and a pair of machine sheds. Friends are also sheltering the Ullriches’ cattle and pigs until the operation can get back up and running.


Farm News staff writer

ARTHUR – At the entry of Dale and Sandy Ullrich’s lane, plastered grass and dirt hang from the novelty John Deere signs that greet visitors entering their farmstead. The sign is leaning, propped against the mailbox, and trees to the north have been ripped like ragdolls and tossed into a nearby ditch.

There was a hub of activity Monday just two days after an F2 tornado, the same that some say hit Mapleton, devastated their land and the contents; it’s not the type of activity any farmer would wish for -ever.

Dale Ullrich stands talking to a neighbor, contents of two crumpled corn bins in the background being emptied into a truck for storage elsewhere.

Merle Lansink, of rural Ida Grove, helps out with clean up by moving debris to a central pile. He was one of more than 100 friends and neighbors who assisted the Ullrich family.

Two bins of soybeans were trucked away the day before, just one day after the disaster struck.

“It’s times like these that you know just how many friends you have,” Ullrich told a neighbor. They shake hands and the man goes back to work.

“We were out to eat when the sirens went off,” Ullrich said. “After the all-clear was given, my cell phone went off and that’s how I got the news.

“My neighbors were telling me ‘You might want to go home.'”

When Ullrich and his wife Sandy went home, they found that a tornado tore through their property taking a pair of 50-by-100-foot machine sheds, two barns and four grain bins along its path.

Sandy Ullrich points to the living room rug that was splattered with glass, rain and mud after the picture window was blown out by gale-force winds. Ullrich defined the storm as “selective,” noting that ceramic plates were left untouched on the walls, but a picture hung between them was blown off the wall

“Earlier today there were 100 people scouring the surrounding fields, picking up everything that blew in that direction. A neighbor of mine is keeping my cattle.

“I can only hope that I can do half as much for them as they have done for me today.”

Merle Lansink, a neighbor who lives southeast of Ida Grove, came by with his Bobcat to help move machine shed debris into a large pile.

“Any of us would help the other out,” Lansink said. “I know some others who got hit, too. There’s talk that it was the same tornado that hit Mapleton.”

Sandy Ullrich said she came home to windows broken in the house and mud and rain on the carpet; their family dog was uninjured.

A sheet of steel siding lies wrapped around a concrete pillar, a testament to the high winds that ripped through the Ullrich property. Two barns were lost on this spot.

“My plate collection was still on the wall but the picture between them was blown down. There was even a vase left on the table. I don’t understand how so much can be broken and damaged but some things left untouched.”

“For all the material things lost,” Dale Ullrichsaid gesturing to his wife, “as long as we’re OK, we’ll be fine.

“We’re very lucky in many ways. Just look at all the friends and neighbors that we have.”

Contact Doug Clough at douglasclough@gmail.com.

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By Staff | Apr 15, 2011

Looking out a porch window of the home lived in by generations of Bundas shows the devastation of the Generations Greenhouse that Cody and Jessica Bunda operated on the farm northwest of Pocahontas. Once everything that is damaged, trees included, is removed from the farmstead, there will be only chunks of concrete left. Nothing escaped damage.



For Farm News

POCAHONTAS – Saturday was a bad day to be named Bunda.

Four Bunda homes northwest of Pocahontas were hit by a tornado that tore through the county, leaving a path of destruction, but few injuries.

Trees at the west side of Clarice Bunda's home northwest of Pocahontas caught debris from demolished buildings of other homes in the area. Her grandson, Daniel, came home just as the tornado hit, and the two barely had time to get to the basement. Clarice Bunda was hospitalized for shock and a leg wound, Daniel Bunda said. A small amount of belongings were able to be salvaged from the home.

“But, we’re all alive,” said Daniel Bunda, who lives with his grandmother, Clarice, in her home.

“I just got home and hopped out of the car, and the wind stopped,” Daniel Bunda said. “Then it switched directions on me. I got into the kitchen, and that’s when I heard the train sound of the wind. I said, ‘We’ve got to get to the basement now!’ I started hearing the garage disappear and said, ‘Good Lord, take us now.’ Grandma looked like she passed out in my arms.”

After the storm went by, he called his parents, Sharon and Anthony Bunda, who live about a mile north.

“I didn’t realize they were hit, too,” Daniel Bunda said. “Grandma’s in the hospital. Me trying to get her to the basement put her in shock. And she had a cut on one leg.”

There was not much to salvage at the home, but there was a grain bin in their back yard. It’s not their bin.

Generations Greenhouse, owned by Cody and Jessica Bunda northwest of Pocahontas, was demolished, though a few items and some plants were saved. This is one of four Bunda farms that were hit by a tornado Saturday evening.

The Bunda Seed Farms to the north had the front side of its seed shed torn off, but the worst devastation landed at the family farm where generations of Bundas have lived and where Cody and Jessica Bunda operated Generations Greenhouse, which hadn’t even opened for the season.

“Everything is gone,” said family friend Barb Hauswirth as she pulled a few plants out of the toppled greenhouse. “Nobody was home when it struck.”

By the time everything that’s destroyed is removed from the property, there likely will be just a few chunks of concrete and maybe one small tree in a side yard.

All the buildings, all the trees were mangled. The house looks as if it’s been standing empty in the elements for 25 years.

As many as 100 friends and family helped Sunday to clean up the place, Hauswirth said. “When it’s cleaned up, it will be level. They’re going to have to start over.”

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or smickelson@messengernews.net

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