Victims of the Storm

Residents talk experiences, struggles in midst of tornado damage

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - Rosabel Andrade and her family rushed into their basement, shown here, the afternoon of the tornado. The whirling wall of wind was tearing up the neighborhood around them as they sprinted to safety below ground.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series taking a closer look at residents and neighborhoods who suffered the most impact from the tornado that came through Marshalltown last week.

Much of northern Marshalltown was devastated by the July 19 tornado that ripped through the city and residents of some of the hardest-hit areas are still working to rebuild both physically and emotionally.

Rosabel Andrade, Bromley Street

The image of backyard trees being uprooted as she and her family raced to their underground shelter will never leave Rosabel Andrade’s memory.

“We saw the whole tornado, it was blowing trees away,” she said. “We ran over here, to the deck … I told my little brother ‘Open the door so we can get to the basement.”

Andrade was holding tight to her young son as she, her parents and brother rushed down below their newly-built deck, the tornado ripping up the neighborhood around them.

Like so many families on Marshalltown’s northeast side, Andrade and her family huddled together as they waited out the storm.

“It popped our ears,” she said.

The storm passed within minutes, but the struggle was just about to begin for Andrade and her family. She said her dad recently had his insurance canceled after an extended trip, leaving the house without financial protection.

“We’re trying to fix our house on our own,” Andrade said as her father, donning a wide-brimmed hat, worked to fix the roof above. “We just don’t know where to start … it’s just a mess right now.”

Debris and broken glass could be found inside Andrade’s house as well. She pointed out shards of glass that had landed on a plate her brother, Ignacio, had been eating off of the same afternoon in his room.

With no insurance to aid them, Andrade said she and her family will continue to work hard to fix their house however possible. She had family members at her house this week to help fix up what they could on the structure.

Roberto Bermudez, East Main Street

Extensive damage was dealt along Main Street in the storm. Structures damaged included the Marshall County Courthouse, several small businesses and the Lennox Industries Plant on the east end of town. In the middle of the path of destruction were people like Roberto Bermudez and his son, Christian, who worked to clean debris from their yard this week.

“Everybody’s trying to help out,” Bermudez said, looking over a mountain of twigs, sticks and large branches from his and a neighbors’ trees that ended up in his yard.

He said he had just finished up his work for the day at M. Gervich and Sons Inc. at 4:30 p.m. that day, right around the time sirens and warnings were going off around town. After hearing the sirens and getting a worried call from his girlfriend’s mother, Bermudez said he got himself and his son to safety.

“We all ran for the basement,” he said.

One aspect of the tornado damage wrought on many victims was that it both tore away pieces of property and sent new debris flying into people’s trees yards and houses. Bermudez said that’s exactly what he and his son were dealing with earlier this week.

“I had a bunch of rubbish, other people’s trash,” he said.

Bermudez maintained a positive outlook as he and his son worked in the late afternoon sun to get the property cleaned up. He said he appreciated the help of volunteer groups that had come in and was particularly thankful for the Iowa State University football players who had come through the area to hand out bottles of water and food items.

Bermudez said he came out of the storm relatively lucky.

“A lot of people got worse than I did,” he said.

Kathy Jay, Bromley Street

As she drove over the Sixth Street/Third Street viaduct, Kathy Jay saw a hulking, dark, swirling monster tearing through the northeast side of Marshalltown — right where she lived.

“We actually chased it home,” she said.

The storm only lasted a matter of minutes, but it took more than an hour for Jay to make it the short distance back to her rented home. Downed trees and power lines, streets clogged with onlookers and storm victims and various debris slowed the commute significantly.

“I just thank God we had renter’s insurance,” she said. “We are mostly concerned with all of the electronics with all the wind and dust and glass.”

She was back at the place Wednesday to help church volunteers pick up and move some of her items. Before the storm hit, Jay said she was planning to move to Arkansas in the near future — that plan hasn’t changed.

In the meantime, she said she is staying at a Comfort Inn hotel and stopping by the house to clean up. Despite the upcoming move, Jay said she was sad to see all the damage.

“We’ve been here since April of 1996,” she said.

Jay recalled her feelings in the days immediately following the tornado.

“Friday was just bewildering … but it was Saturday when it really sunk in, that was my tough day,” she said. Jay said she took Sunday to go to church and take it easy before the tough week ahead.

With the storm moving further and further into the past, Jay said she thinks all residents of the northeast side of Marshalltown should watch out for one another. She said someone stole an umbrella from her broken back patio table days after the storm.

“Truthfully, if people could watch out for the homes … a ‘neighborhood watch’ kind of thing,”

Jay said.

Yaneli and Julio Gomez, North Eighth Avenue

For many Marshalltown residents, the future after the tornado is an uncertain thing. That was the case described by Yaneli Gomez of her father, Julio Gomez, in the aftermath of the storm.

“He had just gotten off work when it happened,” Yaneli said of her father, who owns his home and another that relatives live in on Eighth Avenue. “He saw how things were blowing all over the air … he ran to the basement.”

Yaneli said her mother, Teresa Gomez, ran at the same time, but did not leave the ordeal unscathed — she broke her foot trying to get out of the tornado’s path.

Despite getting medical care after the storm, Yaneli said she is concerned about her mother’s healing.

“She’s barely getting better,” she said.

Also complicating matters for the family is the fact that one of the houses under Julio’s name is uninsured, Yaneli said. She said she didn’t know how they would pay to fix the damage.

Despite an uncertain long-term outlook, Yaneli and many family members young and old were spending quality time together on their porch, eating enchiladas filled with potatoes and drinking bottled water.

Yaneli said she was thankful for help from the Red Cross and Salvation Army, both of which had volunteers out in the area serving hot meals and providing water to those in need.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com