WORLD> America
Powerful storms kill 8 in Iowa and Minnesota
Updated: 2008-05-26 13:41

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Severe thunderstorms packing large hail and tornadoes rumbled across the United States' midsection on Sunday, killing at least eight people and damaging dozens of homes, authorities said.

Iowa Homeland Security administrator Dave Miller said seven of the dead were killed by a tornado in northeast Iowa -- five from Parkersburg, 80 miles northeast of Des Moines, and two from nearby New Hartford. At least 50 injuries were reported.

Cars damaged by a powerful storm are seen in Parkersburg, Iowa, Sunday, May 25, 2008. [Agencies]

"Occasionally we have a death but we have warning system. Seven deaths. It's been a long time since we've had those kinds of injuries and deaths reported," Miller said.

Witnesses reported parts of Parkersburg -- particularly the town's south side -- were reduced to rubble, including most of the town's high school and homes.

A tornado also struck just to the east in the nearby town of Dunkerton and elsewhere in Black Hawk County, where there were reports of homes damaged or destroyed. Dunkerton has fewer than 800 residents and New Hartford has about 700 people.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver issued a disaster proclamation for Black Hawk, Buchanan and Butler counties, a move that helps coordination between state and local authorities.

Miller said homeland security officials are monitoring reports of storms throughout Iowa. In the Des Moines area, there was heavy rain and lightning Sunday night with wind gusts of 70 mph.

At least 20 people were unaccounted for in Minnesota after a swift storm blew through the St. Paul suburb of Hugo, damaging about four dozen homes, City Administrator Mike Ericson said. Many of the residents could be out of town for the holiday weekend, he said.

A 2-year-old child was killed and the child's sibling was critically injured and taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton said. The children's parents also were hospitalized with injuries sustained in the family home.

"It's horrible," Ericson said. "The citizens are very shook and scared." Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced plans to meet with city officials and tour the storm-ravaged city on Monday.

Residents reported a tornado touching down in the area, but that hadn't been confirmed by the National Weather Service. Emergency crews descended on the town to look for those who hadn't been accounted for and to assess the damage.

Roughly 300 to 400 homes were evacuated in the storm-damaged area because of concerns over hazards including downed power lines and leaky gas lines, Ericson said. The city set up a shelter at an elementary school, but American Red Cross spokeswoman Courtney Johnson said all but one of the families was able to find a place to stay with friends or relatives.

Hugo Public Works Director Chris Petree said his family took shelter in the basement before the storm lifted his house off the ground and completely wiped out the second floor.

"I put my daughter down first, my wife on top of her and then I bear-hugged on top of them," Petree said.

As he huddled in his basement against a foundation wall with his wife and 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Petree said they heard the thunderous sound of their house coming off the ground.

"All you hear is glass breaking and wood tearing and breaking in half," Petree said.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch about 6 p.m. for 45 of Wisconsin's 72 counties, but canceled the alert five hours later as the storms began to ease.

Thunderstorms dropped hailstones the size of golf balls in St. Croix County, said meteorologist Bob McMahon, but there was no tornado anywhere in the state. At least 16,000 people across Wisconsin lost power at some point.

In Illinois, the weather service issued a tornado warning for Jo Daviess County through Sunday. Tornado watches were issued for counties including LaSalle and DeKalb. Portions of southern and central Illinois were under thunderstorm watches.

The storms followed three days of violent weather across the Midwest. Rural Oklahoma was battered Saturday and storms in Kansas a day earlier killed at least two people there.

About 100 people have died in US twisters so far this year, the worst toll in a decade, according to the weather service, and the danger has not passed yet. Tornado season typically peaks in the spring and early summer, then again in the late fall.