Charles City, IA Tornado, May 1968
2 TORNADOES KILL 14 IN NORTHEAST IOWA.
700 INJURED IN OELWEIN, CHARLES CITY.
Charles City, Iowa (AP) -- Separate tornadoes ripped paths of devastation through two northeast Iowa cities late Wednesday, leaving at least 14 dead and property damage reckoned in the millions of dollars.
The Red Cross said 2,000 homes in a 105-square block area were destroyed with major damage to another 1,000 homes and 15 businesses destroyed in Charles City.
It said 367 persons at Charles City were injured with 150 still hospitalized this morning and 326 were injured in Oelwein, with 30 still in the hospital.
Gov. Harold Hughes flew to the stricken cities to view the damage and extend state help this morning. He was told by Oelwein Mayor San Mazziotto that damage in that community would run "a conservative $14 million."
Mazziotto also said three of the injured were in critical condition, and sever persons were missing.
There were fears the death total would rise as workers searched the debris.
Authorities counted 11 persons dead in Charles City. Another death was reported at Oelwein, and two more at the small town of Maynard, just north of Oelwein.
An insurance adjuster, Hal Lubbert of Mason City, estimated damage in Charles City at $18 million.
A tornado roared through the center of the downtown business district of Charles City, population 10,419, about 4 p.m.
GARY MOSSMAN working in an office building, said there was "a tremendous roar and a great vacuum. It also looked like two funnels."
"It jumped over our hospital, by the grace of God, stepped down again and started walking a path right through town," he said.
About an hour later, Oelwein population 8,282, was struck by a twister that moved in from the south edge of the city and blasted apath through the business section.
DEAN MEYER an engineer with Radio Station KOEL was broadcasting a tornado warning when the funnel struck.
"God help me!" cried MEYER as the station tower came crashing down. He was not injured.
In Charles City most buildings in an eight block area were demolished. The highway patrol said.
County Memorial Hospital at Charles City overflowed with the injured. Others were taken to hospitals at nearby Mason City and other communities.
Gov. Hughes ordered National Guard troops and available highway patrolmen into both cities, which were immediately sealed off by law enforcement officers to prevent looting and keep sightseers from hindering rescue operations.
Doctors, nurses and blood were flown in from as far away as Minneapolis, Minn., and emergency crews from many northeast Iowa communities moved into the two communities.
The two twisters were among eight spotted over the state during the day. A number of smaller communities were damaged by twisters, hail and high winds.
John Ruzieka of Des Moines, an area superintendent for Western Electric Co., was walking out the back door of the telephone office at Charles City "when I heard something that sounded like a train coming."
"I ran out and jumped into my car," he said. "A tree fell across the hood and another hit the car trunk." RUZICKA was not hurt.
The twister tore off the door and blew out the windows of the office where four telephone operators were at work. None was injured and they put plastic covers over the switchboard and started handling emergency calls.
Jim Black, a sports writer for the Oelwein Daily Register, said the funnel moved through the center of the city and into a residential area.
"I saw the roof of the Masonic Temple lift right up and float away," he said. "I dove underneath a bush and hung on for dear life."
Estimates of damage at Oelwein alone ran into the millions of dollars. A number of business establishments were destroyed, many others suffered light to heavy damage.
On Oelwein's north side, two public schools were damaged, but several children inside them escaped injury.
Others weren't as fortunate, however.
At a mobile trailer court south of Oelwein, several injured women were reported wandering around in the debris of what had once been their homes.
An infirmary was set up at Oelwein High School to handle the overflow from Mercy Hospital.
One Oelwein woman, MRS. GRACE DAMON, reportedly was struck by a falling chimney and she later died of her injuries.
Another fatality was one of the four children of the GORDON KELLEYS of Maynard, just north of Oelwein.
KELLEY, working a block away from his home, returned to find his house leveled and his pregnant wife and one of his children lying unconscious nearby.
The child was rushed to an Iowa City hospital, but died. His wife is reported in serious condition at a Waterloo hospital.
Fatalities at Charles City:
MRS. RAY (SADIE) CHAMBERS.
MRS. JOHN (MINNIE) KNEISEL.
MRS. LeLANE (FLORINE) LEACH.
MRS. CHARLES (LELA) WOLFF.
Fatalities at Oelwein.
GRACE DAMON, 55.
ALBERT E. HEATON, 89.
Fatalities at Maynard.
GALENA KELLEY, 3 years old.
MRS. LOUIS PONSOR, 77.
Iowa City Press-Citizen Iowa 1968-05-16