NATIONAL NEWS

Midwest tornadoes flatten homes in Nebraska suburbs and leave trails of damage in Iowa

Apr 26, 2024, 2:36 PM | Updated: 7:34 pm

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A tornado plowed through suburban Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday, damaging hundreds of homes and other structures as it tore for miles along farmland and into subdivisions. Some injuries were reported but there were no immediate reports that anyone was killed.

Multiple tornadoes were reported in Nebraska and Iowa on Friday, but the most destructive storm moved from a largely rural area into suburbs northwest of Omaha, a city of 485,000 people. Photos on social media showed the small city of Minden, Iowa, about 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) northeast of Omaha also sustained heavy damage.

Three people were injured in Nebraska’s Lancaster County when a tornado hit an industrial building, causing it to collapse with 70 people inside. Several were trapped, but everyone was evacuated and the injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said.

Hundreds of houses sustained damage in Omaha, mostly in the Elkhorn area in the western part of the city, Omaha police Lt. Neal Bonacci said. Police and firefighters moved door-to-door to help people. Crews went to the “hardest hit area” and had a plan to search anywhere someone could be trapped, Omaha Fire Chief Kathy Bossman said.

“They’re going to be putting together a strategic plan for a detailed search of the area, starting with the properties with most damage,” Bossman said. “We’ll be looking throughout properties in debris piles, we’ll be looking in basements, trying to find any victims and make sure everybody is rescued who needs assistance.”

Bonacci said many homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

“You definitely see the path of the tornado,” Bonacci said.

In one area of Elkhorn, dozens of newly built, large homes were damaged. At least six were wrecked, including one that was leveled, while others had the top half ripped off. There were dozens of emergency vehicles in the area.

“We watched it touch down like 200 yards over there and then we took shelter,” said Pat Woods, who lives in Elkhorn. “We could hear it coming through. When we came up our fence was gone and we looked to the northwest and the whole neighborhood’s gone.”

His wife, Kim Woods added, “The whole neighborhood just to the north of us is pretty flattened.”

Three people, including a child, were in the basement of the leveled home when the tornado hit but got out safely, according to Dhaval Naik, who said he works with home’s owner.

KETV-TV video showed one woman being removed from a wrecked home on a stretcher in Blair, a city just north of Omaha.

Bonacci said only two people have been transported for treatment, both with minor injuries.

He said crews are now doing a second search of homes. He said fire crews would work throughout the night to check all the unsafe structures and make sure no one is inside.

“People had warnings of this and that saved lives,” Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said, of the few serious injuries.

The tornado warning was issued in the Omaha area on Friday afternoon just as children were due to be released from school. Many schools had students shelter in place until the storm passed. Hours later, buses were still transporting students home.

“Was it one long track tornado or was it several tornadoes?” said Becky Kern, the warning coordination meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Omaha office.

She said the agency planned to send out multiple crews over the next several days to determine the number of tornadoes and their strength, and that it could take up to two weeks to finish the evaluation.

“Some appeared to be violent tornadoes,” she continued. “There were tornadoes in different areas. And so it’s like forensic meteorology, we call it, like piecing together, all the damage indicators.”

Another tornado hit an area on the eastern edge of Omaha, passing directly through parts of Eppley Airfield, the city’s airport. Officials closed the airport to aircraft operations to access damage but then reopened the facility, Omaha Airport Authority Chief Strategy Officer Steve McCoy said.

The passenger terminal wasn’t hit by the tornado but people rushed to storm shelters until the twister passed, McCoy said.

After passing through the airport, the tornado crossed the Missouri River and into Iowa, north of Council Bluffs.

Nebraska Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Katrina Sperl said damage reports were just starting to come in. Taylor Wilson, a spokesperson for the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said they hadn’t seen any injuries yet.

In Lancaster County, where three people were injured when an industrial building collapsed, sheriff’s officials also said they had reports of a tipped-over train near Waverly.

Two people who were injured in the county were being treated at the trauma center at Bryan Medical Center West Campus in Lincoln, the facility said in a news release. The hospital said the patients were in triage and no details were released on their condition.

The Omaha Public Power District reported that nearly 10,000 customers were without power in the Omaha area.

Daniel Fienhold, manager of the Pink Poodle Steakhouse in Crescent, Iowa, said he was outside watching the weather with his daughter and restaurant employees. He said “it looked like a pretty big tornado was forming” northeast of town.

“It started raining, and then it started hailing, and then all the clouds started to kind of swirl and come together, and as soon as the wind started to pick up, that’s when I headed for the basement, but we never saw it,” Fienhold said.

The forecast for Saturday was ominous. The Weather Service also issued tornado watches across parts of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. And forecasters warned that large hail and strong wind gusts were possible.

“It does look like a big outbreak again tomorrow,” Kern said. “Maybe slightly farther south.”

___

Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas. Associated Press writers Hannah Fingerhut in Des Moines, Iowa, Jack Dura in Bismarck, North Dakota, and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Midwest tornadoes flatten homes in Nebraska suburbs and leave trails of damage in Iowa