June 16, 2024


Someone painted "Greenfield Strong" with a heart next to it on a piece of debris from the tornado outside Greenfield Lumber last Saturday.

The residents of Greenfield and Adair County have begun to pick up the pieces one week after a strong, damaging and fatal tornado struck the area the afternoon of last Tuesday, May 21.

Initially rated an EF-3, officials later deemed the main tornado that struck farmsteads leading to Greenfield and the town of Greenfield to be an EF-4, with winds of 160-200 mph.

The path of damage in Greenfield travels northeast from the lakes south of town to near the hospital and fairgrounds on the east side of town. During a visit here, Governor Kim Reynolds outlined that 153 homes were heavily damaged or destroyed as a result of the storm.

Many people will have stories they will tell about this tornado for generations. They will be shared in the coming weeks.

A second tornado was reported later in the week as having happened May 21 near Arbor Hill, and it was rated an EF-2.

Debris from the first tornado that struck Greenfield was found in other states and part of the relief effort has been reuniting people with those precious items.

One precious item that survived the storm for Wayne and Ruth Henderson was a dollhouse. Ruth began finishing a project her granddaughter, Vanessa Cook of Des Moines, began during the pandemic. It’s almost finished and was untouched in the tornado.

Ruth spent hours gluing 950 shingles to the roof, as well as 16 triangle braces that hold the roof up. This summer, she and Vanessa plan to furniture shop for the miniature light blue beachhouse bungalow.

“It’s Vanessa’s house and I didn’t want it to get ruined,” Ruth said. She and Wayne were taking cover in the basement and their home, which doubles as a bed and breakfast in the south part of town, was otherwise destroyed. “It takes a lot of hours to put those together.”

Cook said she has enjoyed watching her grandma work on the dollhouse. To have it survive the tornado is amazing.

“We’ve worked so hard,” Cook said. “I appreciate and love her so much for working as hard as she has on it.”

At her home one block west of the Greenfield Casey’s store, Erika Christensen and her family decided to take cover when they heard the tornado’s “freight train” sound coming.

“That’s when we took cover under the stairs in the basement,” she said. “You can hear some of it in a video I posted until it cut off. The house we were in is destroyed, but the walls are amazingly still standing. We’re thankful to have been so lucky.”

Family patriarch Bob Queck told Reynolds when she visited their family’s farmstead, which was destroyed west of Richland, that there will be a “new chapter” now. The family posted on social media that the farm where Paul and Abbey’s family live was entirely flattened, “but by the grace of God, they are alive with some minor injuries.”

The Quecks praised the area’s veterinarians as livestock were impacted. As part of cleanup, volunteer groups have been able to go out to fields in the affected areas to pick up debris so farmers can continue their work.

Five people lost their lives in the tornado, including Dean and Pam Wiggins of Greenfield, Michael Jensen of Greenfield, William Williamson of Greenfield, and Monica Zamarron of Shenandoah. The first four passed away as a result of the storm in Greenfield while Zamarron passed away in her car in Adams County.

The tornado hit Greenfield, with lots of warning, at about 3:40 p.m. Tuesday. School had been released early in an abundance of caution and many were already taking cover after outdoor warning sirens were first activated about 3:20 p.m.

Immediately after the tornado exited the area, emergency responders sprang into action, trying to come to the aid of those who were trapped and in need of help. Responders came from many parts of the state to assist.

One Greenfield woman, who lost her home near Casey’s and many of her belongings, talked about a nurse who cared for her in Atlantic who had lost everything in the Minden tornado earlier this month. She said the woman had a good perspective about it and advice for recovery, which gave her hope.

Reynolds made her first visit Wednesday morning, touring the damaged area and speaking to locals, then the media, in a news conference at the Iowa DOT Greenfield Garage. At that point, the scene was still in the “search and rescue” mode.

“It’s been incredible: the response, the volunteers, the community, the outpouring of help,” Reynolds said that day.

Rep. Ray “Bubba” Sorensen of Greenfield talked about being in Fontanelle as the storm approached and chased the tornado “into and out of Greenfield.” He pulled into the bank parking lot on Highway 92 and people were already helping clean up debris just minutes after the tornado left town.

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell joined Reynolds on a visit the following day. While Reynolds had already enacted a state disaster declaration, a federal one that would allow for more aid for the community was in progress by Thursday.

“Me being on the ground today really helps me understand the actual impact,” Criswell said. “Watching videos and seeing the pictures of the tornado damage, it just does not do it justice.”

The Presidential Major Disaster Declaration was approved by President Joe Biden Friday for Montgomery, Adair, Polk and Story counties, which all experienced severe weather the same day.

The Governor’s state declaration was also expanded, providing relief for more counties than originally stated.

With Biden’s disaster declaration, federal funds began to be available for disaster relief and recovery efforts. FEMA personnel were in Adair County Saturday registering residents for assistance. They and the Small Business Administration have opened up offices at Greenfield City Hall for residents to speak with representatives.

Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst visited Greenfield Friday, seeing the town for themselves.

Grassley talked about Parkersburg’s 2008 tornado and how they were able to rebuild. Parkersburg is near to his hometown of New Hartford.

Grassley said that if the early stages of cleanup in Greenfield are any indication, they can have a positive outcome to this like Parkersburg eventually had.

Ernst said that warning sirens sounding again at 4 a.m. Friday morning for high winds in Greenfield was likely an unsettling sound for residents. She said she’s thinking of and praying for residents here as they come to grips with what has happened.

Many local and visiting groups and religious ministries are working to assist residents here with what they need. Many of the churches are set up to provide resources, whether that is a listening ear or physical items people need.

The Adair County Free Press Facebook page is being updated regularly with community announcements and the Adair & Guthrie County EMA page is also a good resource for residents to follow during this disaster.

Greenfield Mayor Jimmie Schultz, who has lived here his entire life, said he never thought he would see anything like this impact his community.

“The outside help and response of people wanting to help is what is crazy. It has been overwhelming and great to see. I think it tells us that everybody is family,” Schultz said.

A return to normal will take time, the mayor explained.

“I think we’ll do it one day at a time. Just like that, the tornado destroyed everything, but it won’t work that way to clean it up,” Schultz said. “We’ll get there. We’ve got a lot of people to help us.”

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson

Caleb Nelson has served as News Editor of the Adair County Free Press and Fontanelle Observer since Oct. 2017. He and his wife Kilee live in Greenfield. In Greenfield and the greater Adair County area, he values the opportunity to tell peoples' stories, enjoys playing guitar, following all levels of sports, and being a part of his local church.