Marshalltown and Parkersburg: Living through both tornados

T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG - Marshalltown shows damage from a July 19 EF-3 tornado.

For many in Marshalltown, the devastating July 19 tornado is a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, but some have experienced more than one disastrous tornado in their lives.

Among those folks are two men now rooted in Marshalltown — St. Francis Catholic School Principal Matthew Herrick and Brown’s Shoe Fit Co. store owner-manager Tyler Peters.

“You don’t think it’s going to happen again,” Peters said, recalling the afternoon of July 19. He said there were four customers at the 10 E. Main Street location just before the storm hit and the sirens went off.

After getting the customers to a lower level, he said he went back upstairs to make sure no one was out in the street as the tornado swept closer. He took shelter behind a large aisle of shoes in the middle of the store.

“I started watching stuff hit the glass and I watched my front doors come off … it opened up my secondary door and started shooting leaves and dirt and debris all into the store,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because my ears were popping or what, but at one point it was just, like, silent.”

AP PHOTO - This photo was taken on May 26, 2008, a day after an EF-5 tornado, with wind speeds of up to 205 mph, destroyed part of Parkersburg. The city has recovered significantly in the 10 years since the storm hit.

In the aftermath, he saw what others on Main Street saw: broken glass, tree debris, torn up roofs and more. But it wasn’t the first time he laid eyes on such a scene.

Peters was born and raised in Parkersburg, the city that suffered a hit from a massive EF-5 tornado in the spring of 2008. He was 14 when it hit.

“I was actually at my grandparents’ house, I was just playing cards at the table,” he said. “My mom had called us and said there was weather coming and, like normal, you just brush it off and assume nothing’s going to happen.”

Then hail started coming down around his grandparents’ house about 10 minutes away from Parkersburg.

“We look outside and there’s this huge, black cloud going toward Parkersburg,” Peters said. “Not even two minutes after the hail goes through, we get a call from my mom, and my mom said ‘A tornado just hit Parkersburg, you guys need to get back in town.’ At that point, the phone call just dropped.”

They raced back to town, and he said he saw houses and other structures “flattened.” His house had the roof and two walls fly off, but his sister, mom, dad and dog were OK.

Herrick also remembered the 2008 tornado.

“We were just north of town canoeing on the river when it hit,” he said. “It was decent, then all the sudden a major storm, so we kind of got off to the side and waited it out a little bit, it got sunny again, so we got back out on the river, then we started getting phone calls.”

At first, he had trouble believing how much damage people calling him were reporting, especially when he heard the local high school had been mostly destroyed.

“As we got more and more phone calls, we started piecing together that it was really bad and got back to town,” Herrick said. “I was actually the high school band director for the public school.”

Both he and Peters, a high school student at the time, were missing a building important to their day-to-day lives. Parkersburg’s recovery is now 10 years in, but Herrick and Peters remembered the events that spring with clarity.

What now?

With similar recovery efforts seen in Parkersburg now under way in Marshalltown, both men had thoughts on the progress so far.

“After the storm here, there was no rain, it was just dry,” Peters said. “In Parkersburg that night it rained a couple inches, so not only did you not have time to get tarps up, all your stuff was then destroyed if it hadn’t already been destroyed because it got completely soaked.”

For the part of town that was hit, he said there was no choice but to rebuild. In Marshalltown, Peters said he has noticed more partial, but significant, damage to buildings.

“Within two weeks, you can’t see any tree debris or anything on the road anymore,” he said of the cleanup effort in Marshalltown. “Without having any federal help at all, the city has done a great job.”

Herrick agreed with that sentiment.

“I think they’re doing well, the key things are good insurance agents that backed their clients … from what I’m hearing so far, that seems to be the case here in Marshalltown,” he said. “The massive outpouring of those who weren’t affected … that’s been there.”

However, Herrick said he is concerned about helping uninsured victims recover from the storm.

“Given the low-income area (hit), there’s going to need to be some aid available,” he said.

While Parkersburg suffered from a powerful EF-5 tornado, Marshalltown was hit by an EF-3 tornado. Both saw families devastated, school facilities damaged and community members coming together for relief and recovery.

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