- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

BRADGATE, Iowa (AP) — Nearly all of the 50 homes in this town were destroyed, and 15 persons were injured as a tornado carved a path through northwestern Iowa.

“When she hit, I just laid down on the floorboard and held on,” Deputy Fire Chief Dennis Behnkendorf said. “Everything was flying past the door. I jumped onto the ground and held on for dear life.”

Though Iowa was hardest hit, severe weather wiped out power as it whipped through parts of West Virginia, Nebraska and Ohio late Friday.

Tornado Alley, a swath extending from west Texas through Oklahoma and Kansas to Iowa, is ripe for stormy conditions because air masses routinely collide there each spring.

In Iowa’s Pocahontas County, sheriff’s officers said a tornado moved through a golf course and cemetery in Rolfe, population 721, before ripping through Bradgate in neighboring Humboldt County.

“All of the houses and buildings have sustained some type of damage,” said Brian Rickless, a Humboldt County sheriff’s deputy who was headed to Bradgate when the tornado hit.

The head of the state’s homeland security department, Ellen Gordman, estimated that 90 percent of Bradgate’s homes were destroyed or sustained major damage, and she reported 10 known injuries. Rolfe, she said, had five or six houses damaged and five reported injuries.

One of the injured in Bradgate was an invalid man who was hit by some flying glass, Miss Gordman said.

“It’s amazing that no one was killed,” Deputy Rickless said. “I think word got out that a tornado was on the way,” and people went to their basements.

Marina Meier said her home caved in from the roof down and was moved about 20 feet off its foundation.

“Our couch was in the neighbor’s yard,” she said.

Mrs. Meier’s family had been planning to move into a new house next week, but they had not sold the old house yet.

“This could set that back a little bit,” she said.

Mayor Martin Brown was at his farm outside of town and was listening to a scanner when the tornado was heading toward Bradgate.

“I heard the Humboldt County sheriff calling for an ambulance. He said his leg was broke, and the town was destroyed. We got here, and he was right. It was destroyed,” Mr. Brown said.

Miss Gordman said the state was providing “temporary sanitary facilities for the community, plenty of bottled water, that type of thing.”

Several thousand people across the state were without power, and Miss Gordman said officials’ biggest concern through the night was flooding in northern Iowa.

Most people whose homes were severely damaged were staying with relatives or friends. Most residents had left town.

Elsewhere, severe thunderstorms and a possible tornado swept across much of West Virginia, from the Ohio River to the Virginia border, knocking out electricity for about 63,500 customers.

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