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Tornado survivors recall terrifying scene

Jackie and Bill Seeman sorted through the wreckage of their home Sunday to see what was spared by a tornado that killed one person and damaged dozens of homes across central Iowa.
CLEANUP
Volunteers clean up debris in Stratford, Iowa, on Sunday after a tornado tore through the town on Saturday. Steve Pope / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ron Runyan couldn’t hear the sirens. The winds were deafening.

In a matter of moments, the quiet weekend he had planned with his mother and sister turned into a nightmare.

Runyan, a 47-year-old truck driver from Fargo, N.D., looked outside his mother’s window Saturday night and saw a howling tornado headed for the house. He rushed his family into the basement as the disaster struck.

“My sister fell down right below the stairs, and my mom, with the wind, kind of took her away from me,” he said. “It was so dirty, I couldn’t see her, and that was it.”

His mother, Lucille Runyan, 84, was the only person killed in storms that produced at least nine tornadoes on Saturday. His sister, Nancy Runyan, 53, remained hospitalized Sunday night with a broken hip.

As crews removed debris from what remained of his mother’s home Sunday, Ron Runyan stood across the street in the small town of about 745 residents remembering the terror.

“Everything happened so fast,” he said. “We were down below the stairs and the roof was coming off. Everything was folding. The house was crackling.”

Runyan said he would have died, too, if he hadn’t dived into a corner when the roof blew off.

Dozens of homes destroyed
Stratford and Woodward, 30 miles to the south, were the hardest hit by the tornadoes that swept through central Iowa on Saturday afternoon. The governor declared Hamilton and Dallas counties, north and west of Des Moines, disaster areas, making them eligible for state assistance.

An overturned car sits in the parking lot of Casey's General Stores in Woodward, Iowa, after a tornado struck the town Saturday, Nov. 12, 2005. Tornadoes swept across central Iowa on Saturday, damaging homes and buildings and forcing college football fans to take shelter in a nearby basketball arena. (AP Photo/Kevin Sanders)Kevin Sanders / AP

As many as 30 homes in Stratford were destroyed, and at least 40 in Woodward were severely damaged, officials said. Search dogs were brought in to check the rubble, but authorities said they believed all residents were accounted for.

“It’s amazing. If you’ve seen the damage here, we had homes that were just obliterated, and they had people in them at the time it came through,” said Dallas County Sheriff Brian Gilbert.

Fall storms rare in region
Gov. Tom Vilsack on Sunday visited Woodward and Stratford, where he offered his condolences to the Runyan family.

“Tornadoes in November in Iowa just aren’t supposed to happen,” he said.

In Woodward, Jackie Seeman and her husband shifted through the rubble of their destroyed home. Seeman, 47, said she had been in bed when the house collapsed around her Saturday.

“I heard a big whoosh and a big boom and then my house just came in on me,” she said.

On Sunday, they were delighted to find a few of their NASCAR collectibles, but their car was covered in rubble and their boat had been tossed hundreds of feet by the storm. Boats, lawnmowers and board games littered lawns nearby in the town of about 1,200 residents, and debris hung from trees.

“We’ll probably stay here, although I’d like to go somewhere without a tornado,” Seeman said as she began crying.

National Weather Service meteorologist Karl Jungbluth said the tornadoes that struck Woodward and Stratford are both being classified as F-2 on the Fujita scale, which measures the strength of a tornado up to F-5, the strongest. Both towns were socked with winds that likely neared 150 miles per hour, he said.

Only Woodward, Stratford, the northwest edge of Ames and some farms suffered structural damage, Jungbluth said.