Business owners and residents are picking up the pieces after a tornado tore through south-central Iowa May 21, devastating the town of Greenfield, about 60 miles southwest of Des Moines, by destroying homes and businesses, toppling MidAmerican Energy Co. wind turbines and damaging the Adair County Memorial Hospital.

Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) has issued an emergency disaster proclamation for 15 counties, which makes available state resources for cleanup. “That will allow DOT to get on the ground and help remove any debris and eliminate any barriers they might have in connecting with state resources,” she said during a May 22 news conference.

She said the state is also seeking a federal major disaster declaration.

Sgt. Alex Dinkla, the Iowa State Patrol public information officer, confirmed there were fatalities and injuries resulting from the storm, but didn't specify numbers because a search-and-rescue effort has not been completed. 

Tina Hoffman, MidAmerican Energy's vice president of corporate communications, said in a statement that the tornado collapsed five wind turbines at MidAmerican's Orient wind farm and one at the Arbor Hill wind farm. Wind technicians took cover and were not injured.  

“Several turbines registered wind speeds over 100 mph as the tornado approached, before we lost contact with our sensors and the turbines were destroyed,” Hoffman said.

The Des Moines-based company is inspecting all of its wind facilities in areas affected by the tornado before resuming operations. 

MidAmerican Energy, which has operated wind farms since 2004, has previously lost only one other wind turbine, also due to a tornado.

Manufacturers design the turbines to withstand severe thunderstorms and high wind events, Hoffman said, “but, as we've seen from the damage sustained throughout several Iowa counties, few structures can withstand a direct hit by a powerful tornado such as what we experienced on Tuesday.”

Eldon Ray, sales manager for Schildberg Construction Inc. was at his desk in the aggregate supplier's Greenfield building at about 3:30 p.m., when the tornado hit. Part of the roof was torn off the building.

“It took our office completely out,” he said. “We took a direct hit. Luckily, no one was hurt.” 

“All of the windows busted out,” he said. “I closed my eyes and covered my head.”

tornado office damage

Eldon Ray was sitting at his desk when the tornado hit and wrecked Schildberg Construction's Greenfield office.  
Photo courtesy of Eldon Ray

The day after the tornado, the company was in salvage mode and working from their other office locations. Ray hopes to be back in business within a week.

He drove by MidAmerican Energy's turbines and witnessed they were bent over and “completely flat” for seven or eight miles.