CRESTON, Iowa — Considering a tornado ripped through perhaps the most vulnerable part of town, Creston citizens after a week of cleanup remained thankful that no lives were lost.
Hundreds of volunteers converged on Creston, population 7,556, after an EF2 tornado weaved through the northwest corner of town April 14. They had disposed of most of the debris by Tuesday. Now it's largely up to the professionals: those charged with repairing roofs and windows, completing the demolition of houses deemed unsalvageable, and operating commercial cleaning services.
In the path of the tornado that stretched 14 miles and reached winds of 130 mph were the Greater Regional Medical Center, which includes a hospice home, and Southwestern Community College, with an enrollment of 1,700.
The hospital sustained significant roof and water damage, and an army of workers was present Friday, cleaning and repairing. Still, spokeswoman LouAnn Snodgrass said, the hospital was fortunate because nobody was injured.
"I think our whole community is blessed, because it could have been a much different outcome,'' she said. "We have to be grateful that no lives were taken. We can replace and repair.''
After passing the hospital and destroying several houses immediately to the east, the tornado continued through the Southwestern campus.
Freshman Sarah Sneed sensed something was wrong when she was awakened from an early-evening nap.
Seconds later, the lights went out and the windows in her third-floor dormitory room imploded. The 19-year-old Malvern, Iowa, native and Council Bluffs St. Albert graduate grabbed her roommate and raced downstairs.
"I was terrified. I knew it was a tornado,'' Sneed said.
They found safety with two other young women and about 15 young men in a first-floor hallway. After about four minutes, the tornado had moved on.
Sneed, a member of the school's cross country team, couldn't believe what she found after she walked back up to her room. The roof over her bedroom and the living space she shared with roommates was gone. Her computer and iPad were ruined. Most of her clothes weren't salvageable.
"I'm wearing my friend's clothes right now,'' she said.
Sneed's twin sister, Hannah, also a St. Albert grad, is a member of the Southwestern softball team. With no games scheduled that weekend, coach Lindsay Stumpff had sent the Spartans home.
Only two players remained in the dorms: Iowans Kelsey Moore of Centerville and Ashley Brandt of Melbourne. The storm hit so fast and with so much intensity that they couldn't open the door to escape their room. They locked themselves in the bathroom. In less than a minute, it was over.
"It seemed like a long time,'' Moore said.
Stumpff was shocked at how much debris was scattered across campus after the storm. Likewise, she was amazed at how quickly it disappeared.
"I think if you would have asked me (the next day), I would have thought 'I don't know what we're going to do. I don't know if we're going to make it,''' she said. "But with our community and with our faculty and staff, with just how everybody's come together, I think we're going to jump over that adversity and we're going to succeed. We'll be fine.''
Three of the four dorms on campus are uninhabitable. A few of the softball players are staying with teammates who live in the area, but most of them, including their coach, will call a local motel home for the rest of the school year.
The students are adjusting well. They like their big beds and getting fresh towels each morning. However, the motel is split into two buildings and there's just one washer and two dryers on the premises. They're constantly in use.
"And they're more expensive,'' said sophomore Londen Miller of Des Moines.
Sarah Sneed still hasn't shaken the experience. A couple of nights after the tornado, there was some lightning in the area. She and a friend decided to just stay up all night.
Some scars, even those that aren't physical, take time to heal.
"That was the scariest thing I've ever been through,'' she said of the tornado.
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