Photo showcase: Storm damage in Thurman and other Iowa towns
Photo showcase: Cleanup continues in Thurman a few days after storm.
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THURMAN, Iowa — Rod Umphreys had a new experience this summer: Waking up at dawn because bright sunlight beamed through his bedroom window.
“You never noticed that before because you always had the trees there,” said Umphreys, the mayor of this town of about 230 people.
Until this spring, a grove of trees just east of Umphreys' home blocked out the sun. But most of those trees are gone — one small part of what was lost April 14 when a tornado hit the town.
No one was seriously injured when the EF2 twister struck Thurman, a town that hugs the Missouri River Valley bluffs in northwest Fremont County.
The tornado was one of about 15 that shook up Nebraska and Iowa that evening. Another struck Creston, damaging the local hospital and the Southwestern Community College campus.
The tornado blasted through the western half of Thurman, destroying 10 of the town's 100 homes and damaging most of the rest.
Now, just over four months later, rebuilding is well under way.
“Nobody wants that to happen,” Umphreys, 36, said of the tornado. “But we've got a lot of nice-looking homes in town now.”
Brand-new siding lines many houses, and many also are covered by new roofs. Basements for new homes have been dug.
But there is still a ways to go. Twelve towering half-century-old trees that once shaded the city park are gone, as are all four homes on the block just to the west of the park.
Twenty new trees, each maybe 6 feet tall, now dot the park.
“We're hoping they'll all survive with the summer we've had,” Umphreys said, before touching the wilting leaves of a new black maple. “This poor tree, I don't know if it's going to make it.”
At Bill Reeves' home, a big buckeye tree in the front yard was damaged so severely that it had to be trimmed back to some 15 feet high.
“I just kind of left it to see what it would do, because it was a beautiful tree,” said Reeves, 46.
He now has new beige siding and new windows on his home and a new fence in his front yard.
“I still spend almost every day off, still doing something, still working on it,” Reeves said.
Many residents are still haggling with their insurance companies, so several homes have blue tarps on their roofs. One of the tarped homes belongs to Leland Achenbach, 52.
Achenbach plans to replace his ravaged century-old house with a modular home — hopefully before winter. But for now he still lives in the damaged home. It leaks when it rains, and soggy plaster sometimes falls.
“People ask, ‘You going to rebuild?' Yeah. You've got to rebuild. Where else am I going to live? I've lived in Thurman my whole life,” Achenbach said.
Umphreys said most Thurman residents live here because their parents did. They are not inclined to move. And going through the tornado has brought them together.
“I think that's the mentality of the town here,” he said. “We grew up here. We love this town. ... Just a little more work this summer than what there would have been.”
As he walked along a street here Friday, Umphreys picked up what looked to be a roofing nail, presumably ripped from someone's home that long night four months ago.
“This is everyday, you just pick these up,” he said, tossing it in a rusty barrel by the side of the road.
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Storm damage the day after
April 17: Cleanup continues
April 21: Cleanup and rebuilding