Seven dead, including children, as large tornado roars through central Iowa

A man walks by a toppled traffic light
A utility worker tends to a downed stoplight on Highway 69 in Des Moines on Saturday after a strong storm caused damage in areas of central Iowa.
(Bryon Houlgrave / Associated Press)

Seven people were killed, including two children, when several tornadoes swept through central Iowa, damaging buildings and knocking down trees and power lines, authorities said.

Emergency management officials in Madison County said four were injured and six people were killed when one tornado touched down in the area southwest of Des Moines near the town of Winterset on Saturday afternoon. Among those killed were two children under the age of 5 and four adults.

In Lucas County, about 54 miles southeast of Des Moines, officials confirmed one death and multiple reported injuries when a separate tornado struck less than an hour later. The state Department of Natural Resources said that person who died was in an RV at a campground at Red Haw State Park in Chariton, Iowa.

Madison County Emergency Management director Diogenes Ayala said 25 to 30 homes were badly damaged by the tornado.


“This is the worst anyone has seen in a very long time,” he said.

In Grand Lake, Colo., an outdoor ice hockey tournament was postponed due to thin ice on the fragile alpine lake.

The storms are the worst to occur in Iowa since 2008, when one tornado destroyed nearly 300 homes and killed nine people in the northern Iowa city of Parkersburg in May, and another storm a month later killed four boys at the Little Sioux Boy Scout ranch in western Iowa.

The National Weather Service in Des Moines tweeted early Sunday that there were at least three thunderstorms producing tornadoes, but it’s “unknown at this time how many tornadoes occurred.”

Meteorologist Alex Krull said it’s unusual but not unheard of to have serious storms like this in March in the Midwest. He said they are more common in April and May.

Officials didn’t identify those killed.

Wendy Burkett told the Des Moines Register that she and two of her three daughters were in their house Saturday afternoon when her husband, Tony, called her from a nearby shed where he was working to alert her about a tornado warning.

Burkett said she came outside and joined him in front of the house, looking down their driveway toward the southwest. “And then we saw it. The tornado,” she said. “There was debris flying around and it was getting louder and louder.”

They hurried with their daughters to their basement as the tornado roared by within seconds. As they clung to one another, a window shattered outward and water began spewing from the pipes, she said.

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But within about a minute, the tornado passed by. Although the family was unhurt, their home was in ruins amid the surrounding debris, even in the trees.

The National Weather Service in Des Moines tweeted later Saturday that initial photos and videos from the damage around the community of Winterset suggested it was at least an EF-3 tornado, capable of causing severe damage, on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. It said weather service teams would investigate the damage Sunday and further assess a potential rating.

La Niña, amplified by the effects of climate change, brings years of drought to some parts of the world and torrential rain to others.

Thunderstorms that spawned tornadoes moved through much of Iowa through Saturday night with storms also causing damage in the Des Moines suburb of Norwalk, areas just east of Des Moines and other areas of eastern Iowa.