WEATHER

Residents begin going through the rubble after tornadoes hammer parts of Nebraska and Iowa

Apr 27, 2024, 12:16 PM

On April 26, 2024, a tornado outbreak occurred from central Nebraska into central Iowa, largely cen...

On April 26, 2024, a tornado outbreak occurred from central Nebraska into central Iowa, largely centered on NWS Omaha's county warning area. One of the more notable damage tracks stretched from just northeast of Lincoln, through the Waterloo and Elkhorn areas, and all the way to near Soldier, IA, in eastern Monona county. In total, NWS Omaha issued 42 tornado warnings (National Weather Service)

(National Weather Service)

OMAHA, NEB. (AP) — Residents began sifting through the rubble Saturday after a tornado plowed through suburban Omaha, Nebraska, demolishing homes and businesses as it moved for miles through farmland and into subdivisions, then slamming an Iowa town.

The Friday night tornadoes wreaked havoc in the Midwest, causing a building to collapse with dozens of people inside and destroying and damaging hundreds of homes.

There have been several injuries but no fatalities reported.

By Saturday morning, the sounds of chainsaws filled the air in the Elkhorn neighborhood of Omaha, a city of 485,000 people with a metropolitan area population of about 1 million. Lumber from the damaged homes lay in piles. Fences were knocked over and the trees were skeletal, missing most of their branches.

Power outages peaked at 10,000, but had dropped to 4,300 by morning.

“We could hear it coming through,” said Pat Woods, who lives in Elkhorn. “When we came up, our fence was gone and we looked to the northwest and the whole neighborhood’s gone.”

Omaha police Lt. Neal Bonacci said Saturday that the fire department had completed its search of damaged homes and structures. He described the injuries as minor.

The sheriff of the city’s Douglas County, Aaron Hanson, begged the community in a message on the social media platform X to not drive to the damaged areas for “mere entertainment.” He said gawkers were causing traffic jams and could slow emergency vehicles.

Meanwhile, Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen posted on X that he had ordered state resources to be made available to help. He and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds planned to tour damaged areas. And Pillen planned a news conference later Saturday in Omaha.

The National Weather Service was still evaluating the number and strength of the twisters.

One of them hit an industrial building to the west of Omaha, in Nebraska’s Lancaster County, causing it to collapse with 70 people inside. Several were trapped, but everyone was evacuated and the three injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said.

Sheriff’s officials there also said they had reports of a tipped-over train near Waverly, Nebraska.

Another tornado passed over Eppley Airfield on the eastern edge of Omaha, destroying four hanger buildings with 32 privately owned planes inside. No one was hurt and the passenger terminal was not hit. The airport has resumed operations, although access to areas used by noncommercial pilots is limited so crew can clean up the mess, the airfield said in a news release.

After hitting the airport, the storm moved into Iowa, taking aim at the small town of Minden.

Forty to 50 homes were completely destroyed. Two injuries were reported but none were life-threatening, said Jeff Theulen, chief deputy of the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office, at a late Friday briefing.

“It’s heartbreaking to see these people who have lost houses, cars, essentially their life until they have to rebuild it,” he said, urging people to stay away because of downed power lines.

At the Minden United Church of Christ, which survived the storm and has become a community hub of help and support, there were plans to take 4-wheel-drive vehicles out to devastated parts of town to bring meals to those who need them, Pastor Eric Biehl said.

“A lot of people are just kind of in shock,” Biehl said. “It’s all overwhelming now.”

Tammy Pavich, who stores equipment on the west edge of town, said she “kind of breathed a sigh of relief” after the first round of tornadoes moved through Omaha. Then, she recalled, the storm “hit Minden dead-on.”

Todd Lehan, a lifelong resident of the town, said he took shelter in a windowless basement.

“It sounded like a vacuum cleaner on top of your house,” he recalled.

The damage was causing headaches for Nebraska football fans headed to the spring game.

“Be prepared for heavy traffic, buckle up and put the phone down,” warned the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Even as the National Weather Service worked to evaluate the damage, the forecast for Saturday was ominous. It issued tornado watches early Saturday for northwestern Texas and across western Oklahoma.

“Tornadoes, perhaps significant tornadoes,” were possible Saturday afternoon and evening, said weather service meteorologist Bruce Thoren in Norman, Oklahoma.


Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas and Jeff Martin from Minden, Iowa. Associated Press writers Margery A. Beck and Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska, Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; Hannah Fingerhut in Des Moines, Iowa; Jack Dura in Bismarck, North Dakota; Jeff Martin in Atlanta and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington; contributed to this report.

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Residents begin going through the rubble after tornadoes hammer parts of Nebraska and Iowa