Half a town is in ruins following a deadly tornado that ripped apart a stretch of northern Iowa.
The Sunday afternoon twister killed six people in Iowa, four of them in Parkersburg and two others in nearby New Hartford.
And in neighbouring Minnesota, a child was killed by severe weather in a suburb of St Paul.
“You really are overwhelmed when you see it,” Iowa governor Chet Culver said yesterday after touring Parkersburg. “You can’t imagine this kind of devastation, homes completely gone. And to see people trying to sort through their belongings is very difficult.”
In addition to those killed, about 70 people were injured, two of them critically.
In Parkersburg, 222 homes and 21 businesses were destroyed and more than 400 homes damaged. Among the buildings destroyed were city hall, the high school and the town’s sole grocery store and petrol station.
That amounted to about half of the homes in Parkersburg destroyed or severely damaged, said Butler County Sheriff Jason Johnson.
“There’s so much hurt here, I don’t know where to start,” said Senator Chuck Grassley, who owns a farm near New Hartford.
Warning sirens sounded early enough to give residents time to seek shelter, said Parkersburg’s mayor Bob Haylock.
“Without that, we would have a tremendous amount of injuries and loss of life,” he said. “People were down in their basements and waiting it out.”
Diane Goodrich rode out the storm in her basement with her husband and three neighbours.
“The noise was just unbelievable,” she said as she searched through the ruins of her home. “Our ears were popping. We could hear trees flying over us. We could hear every piece of furniture that left the house.”
The storm struck just after 5pm local time on Sunday, following an east-to-west path just a few miles north of the Waterloo area. It hit Parkersburg, New Hartford and then Dunkerton, about 50 miles east of Parkersburg. About 80 miles to the south west, the Des Moines area had heavy rain and wind that gusted to 70mph.
Culver issued a disaster proclamation for Black Hawk, Buchanan, Delaware and Butler counties.
North of St Paul, Minnesota, the tornado that struck the town of Hugo on Sunday killed two-year-old Nathaniel Prindle and injured his young sister, Washington County officials said.
The boy’s father and his four-year-old sister were in hospital in a stable condition and his mother was released after treatment.
Neighbour Marvin Miller found Nathaniel’s parents trapped in the debris of their home.
“They just kept screaming, ’My children, my children!’ Mr Miller said.
The storms came after three days of violent weather elsewhere across the US. Rural Oklahoma was battered Saturday and storms in Kansas a day earlier killed at least two people.
About 100 people have been killed by US twisters so far this year, the worst toll in a decade, according to the weather service, and the danger has not passed yet. The tornado season typically peaks in the spring and early summer, then again in late autumn.