updated 8/27/2004 8:55:03 PM ET 2004-08-28T00:55:03

Gov. Tom Vilsack declared three Iowa counties disaster areas Friday after wind and rainstorms pulled down a nursing home's wall, dropped softball-size hail, damaged crops and raised fears of flooding.

Residents in the southern Iowa town of Leon cleaned up branches, limbs and other debris as crews repaired cable connections and power lines ripped from homes by Thursday night's storm.

"It was terrible. Oh, that noise! It was a roar," said Gerata Scott, 78, who said she prayed as she watched the storm unfold from her living room chair.

The disaster declaration covered Decatur, Boone and Marshall counties.

A tornado struck rural Hopkington, in northeast Iowa, damaging farm buildings, grain bins and machinery, according to the National Weather Service.

Winds up to 82 mph
Elsewhere, winds were to blame. About 25 miles north of Des Moines, authorities in Story County said grain bins, outbuildings and an abandoned mobile home were destroyed by winds reaching up to 82 mph. Residents reported a tornado near Maxwell and said crop damage was considerable in the area, which saw up to 3.25 inches of rainfall.

Police in Hancock County, in northern Iowa, reported homes and cars damaged by hail the size of softballs.

A wall collapsed when the storms struck a nursing home in Hiawatha, in eastern Iowa.

"The wall was torn clear off," said Tammy Harms, dietary supervisor at the Hiawatha Care Center.

Metal yields to winds
The worst damage in Leon, a town of about 2,000 people near the Missouri state line, was at the local John Deere dealership, where the wind bent the blades of a windmill and peeled the metal roof off a parts warehouse. A nearby shed was blown off its foundation.

Ricky Flowers, 45, who works for the dealership, used a chain saw to remove a tree that had fallen on his semitrailer rig, tearing a big hole in the top of the cab.

"I can never remember one quite this bad in the area," he said.

The weather service said flash flood warnings were in effect for parts of eastern and central Iowa.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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