Weather

Tornadoes collapse buildings and level homes in Nebraska and Iowa

Some injuries have been reported but there were no immediate reports that anyone was killed in the Friday storms.
Posted at 7:24 AM, Apr 27, 2024

Tornadoes wreaked havoc Friday in the Midwest, causing a building to collapse with dozens of people inside and destroying and damaging hundreds of homes, many around Omaha, Nebraska.

As of Friday night, there were several reports of injuries but no immediate deaths reported. Tornado warnings continued to be issued into the night in Iowa.

Three people were hurt 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.

One of the most destructive tornadoes moved for miles Friday through mostly rural farmland before chewing up homes and other structures in the suburbs of Omaha, a city of 485,000 people with a metropolitan area population of about 1 million.

Photos on social media showed the small city of Minden, Iowa, about 30 miles northeast of Omaha also sustained heavy damage.

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

"It does look like a big outbreak again tomorrow," said Becky Kern, the warning coordination meteorologist in the National Weather Service's Omaha office. "Maybe slightly farther south."

Hundreds of houses sustained damage in Omaha on Friday, mostly in the Elkhorn area in the western part of the city, Omaha police Lt. Neal Bonacci said.

"You definitely see the path of the tornado," Bonacci said, adding that many of the homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

Police and firefighters went door-to-door to help people, going to the "hardest hit area" with a plan to search anywhere someone could be trapped, Omaha Fire Chief Kathy 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," Bossman 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 their top halves ripped off. Dozens of emergency vehicles responded to 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."

Kim Woods, his wife, 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 the home's owner.

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

Two people were transported for treatment, both with minor injuries, Bonacci said.

Crews were doing a second search of homes. Fire crews would work throughout the night to check all the unsafe structures and make sure no one is inside, Bonacci said.

"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 children home.

"Was it one long track tornado or was it several tornadoes?" Kern of the National Weather Service said.

The agency planned to send out multiple crews over the next several days to determine the number of tornadoes and their strength, which could take up to two weeks, she said.

"Some appeared to be violent tornadoes," Kern 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 halted aircraft operations to assess 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 Friday afternoon that 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, Nebraska.

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 nearly 10,000 customers were without power in the Omaha area. The number had dropped to about 7,300 by Friday night.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen posted on the social platform X that he had ordered state resources to be made available to help with the emergency response and to support first responders as they assess the damage.

"Nebraskans are no strangers to severe weather and, as they have countless times before, Nebraskans will help Nebraskans to rebuild," Pillen said.

Daniel Fienhold, manager of the Pink Poodle Steakhouse in Crescent, Iowa, said he was outside watching the weather with his daughter and restaurant employees, recalling "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.