Howard County tornado recalled 50 years later


Northeast Iowa - The date May 15, 1968 is remembered by many in this area. It is the date an F5 tornado went through Charles City, killing 13, headed to Elma, where it destroyed the Catholic Church and ended at the Paul Goodman farm west of Lime Springs.
Many people living north/northeast of Charles City and Elma found fallout, such as papers and artifacts scattered in fields and yards. A statuette, apparently from a Catholic church, was reportedly found near Cherry Grove.
In Elma, Immaculate Conception Church, on the west side of town, was struck. The church was de-roofed, and the belfry and nave were badly damaged. Two new homes and other buildings to the southwest of the church were destroyed.
The Lime Springs Herald of May 23, 1968 reported, “A wooded area south of the Elma Catholic cemetery looked like it had been shelled by artillery, for it was stripped, and the Cemetery itself had twisted metal fence, all kinds of damage, with over 100 tombstones moved or toppled.”
According to Elma’s history book, “Within town, in an area about four-by-six blocks on the west side, virtually every tree was either stripped of branches or downed. Many streets were blocked by the trees. Scarcely a home or building in the area escaped damage.
“. . . The National Guard troops from Charles City, Mason City and Waterloo were present . . . There were at least 500 people helping out in Elma at various times after the tornado. Two busloads of high school youths from Belmond came on Saturday to help clean up; busloads of adults and teenagers from Lime Springs, Cresco and other towns met at Davis Corners on Sunday and came to help with clean-up.”
Just north of Elma, several residences were laid flat.
Other devastation near Saratoga forced a farmer to destroy his cows. They had been grazing on the Experimental Farm and were carried across the road by the winds.
The Times Plain Dealer of May 22, 1968 stated 52 homes, farmsteads or business places suffered major damage, but there were no fatalities.
Some locals remember
Mary McConnell: We rode to Charles City with some friends of ours to visit some of their friends a day or two after the tornado struck. They had to have a pass to get into town to see them because of all the debris and sightseers.
Here is their account of the day for them. In the afternoon, they were going to go to the repair shop to pick up some shoes they had fixed. They were going to be right back, so they left the house and windows open because it was such a nice day.
They stopped and picked up his shoes, and when they left the shop and came to the red light, the stop lights went out. They could see the weather was bad, so they drove as fast as they could out of Charles City toward New Hampton. When they drove back into town, they couldn’t get home because of the debris everywhere. They had to walk to get to their house.
Their house was still standing, although trees in their yard had been uprooted. The only damage to their house was some windows being broken out. They think what saved their house was the fact everything had been left wide open. 
The shoe shop they had stopped at was gone. All that was left was a slab of cement.
Keith Klomp: (He had been working at Oliver in Charles City and was on his way home.)
It was hot that day, so we stopped at a bar. I looked out the window and saw a storm was coming, so we headed out. The next day, Harold Leverson took his flat-bed truck to Charles City to help Roger Jones. All the houses around him were flattened, and his house was twisted, but we were able to get some stuff out.
One of the walls at Oliver was torn out, and I missed work for a couple weeks.
Sharon Gansen: (Sharon was gardening when the weather started to look bad.)
All of my clocks stopped at 5:21.
We had about 13 people in our basement, Jim and my three kids, Joe and Betty Biwer and kids and Claire Enright and daughter.
We were standing in our driveway. It had hailed, and the kids were picking up the stones. The sky got green/yellow and then black. And then it was still. The two guys saw the roof of the hog-buying station from two blocks away fly overhead. 
We ran to the basement. As soon as the basement doors were shut, we heard the noise. It really does sound like a train.
A neighbor came charging up the street. They had to clear debris from the steps and lift us up out of the basement. All that was left of their 14-month-old house was the south wall and subfloors. The refrigerator was pushed to the middle of the floor, but that was all that was left. The next day we opened the door, and there was straw that went through the milk jug. How does something like that happen?
The two cars were in the garage and totalled. 
Two horses from the neighbors across the street were standing in their back yard covered in mud. They were alive but stunned. We figured the tornado picked up the pond water and mud from Hart’s Pond and dumped it on them.
We lost everything on the first floor. A lot of our furniture was in the neighbor’s creek area, but unusable. 
Everybody was busy cleaning up, and there were lots of volunteers who came to help. That’s what small towns do.
Thank God my siblings and parents were able to get copies of pictures.
Now, I don’t save anything. If I get it, I use it, because it can be gone in an instant.
After the storm, we stayed with my folks, and then we were fortunate to find a two-room house south of town. We rebuilt as soon as we could and moved into our new house on Nov. 22, 1968.
Their youngest daughter, who was three at the time, still has nightmares.
Allen Goodman: (Editor’s note: He was just 14-years-old when the tornado passed by his house and hit his grandparents’ farm one mile north. His recollections are chilling.)
Dad (Corwin) and I were behind the barn cleaning the cow yard. It was hot, hot, hot and muggy. Then it clouded up, and the temperature dropped and started pouring rain.
We left the tractors running and ran into the barn. Then it just stopped. Then insulation and shingles started falling out of the sky. 
We looked up and saw a black spot. It was floating down, down, down. It was a pair of totally inflated pants! We went to look at it but were afraid there would be a leg in there. It was a pair of brown Wrangler corduroy pants from Coast-to-Coast in Elma. It still had the tag!
We went to the house to show everyone else. As we were standing there, a big cloud enveloped a big willow tree by the house, and I yelled out, “Tornado!”
We ran to the basement. The pressure was breaking our ear drums. The wind was terrible. Then it went by.
Dad stayed outside. He stood in front of the house and hollered at the tornado, “By Almighty God, turn!” And it did.
When we came out, we looked toward Grandma and Grandpa’s (Paul and Mabel Goodman) house. We could never see the building site because of a grove of trees. But we saw it. Dad, brother Mike and I got in the vehicle to get to their house. It took an hour because of washouts and downed power lines.
We called for Grandma and Grandpa and could hear Grandpa chopping his way out of the basement.
We spent the rest of the night dispatching livestock. The barn had fallen on the cows and pigs. I remember the pigs walking on just their front legs because their backs were broken. Some had two-by-fours run through them. Refrigerator trucks came, and people started butchering. 
It’s a day I’ll never forget. 
Afterwards, Mom (Anita Goodman) would be in the basement every time a cloud came up.
I bet we can still go out there and find remnants today. For years we were digging stuff out.
And those pants? I wore them through junior high!
Anita Goodman: Allen and Corwin came from the barn talking about a tornado. We went in the basement. It just passed us by.
It was raining so hard we couldn’t see. When it stopped, we could see the destruction of [his parents’ place]. We could see all the trees were gone.
They had been looking out the window and had just turned away when the big picture window broke. 
We picked up stuff from the field that had Charles City addresses on it. 
Lots and lots of trees were down, and many people came to help saw them.
Although it may not seem like anyone was lucky, Howard County did not have a fatality, and people were able to rebuild. That’s what Iowans do.
[If anyone wouls like to share their memories of the tornado, the Times would be happy to chat . Give us a call at 563-547-3601.]

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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