Tornado survivors feel fortunate despite the damage done

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

SINCLAIR, Iowa —The facts are startling enough.

The F5 tornado was among the worst in Iowa history. It killed seven people and injured more than 80 and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses.

The survivors tell the story.


Wayne and Jo Lavelle have lived in Sinclair just east of Parkersburg for 34 years.

"We just barely got to the basement," Jo recounted as her children and grandchildren helped them retrieve possessions from their destroyed home. "My husband was at the top of the stairs and I was going down the stairs with his oxygen tank when we heard the wind. It didn’t take long. We hated to come up from the basement. We didn’t know what we’d find."

Jo said that they left after the storm because anhydrous ammonia tanks were leaking at Sinclair Elevator next door. They weren’t able to return until the next evening.

"The hazmat people got my husband’s medication and it was right where it had been," Jo said. "Some things had not moved. My china cupboard and china were fine, but it’s such an incredible mess on the west and upstairs."

Jo shook her head.

"It’s okay," she said. "We’re here. All our children are helping. We can take a lot of our things. The people in town lost everything. We’ll get through this."

Kendall Vry was working at Sinclair Elevator.

"We saw it coming over the hill," Vry said. "We saw debris flying, and we looked for a spot to hide. See that pile of debris. That’s where we were. We were in a shed inside of a shed."


Four workers waited out the storm.

"It’s hard to explain," he said. "I think it took 45 seconds to a minute. When it was done we threw off a sheet of plywood. We could hear the gas from the water heater and knew we better get out."

Leaking LP tanks and anhydrous tanks were strewn all over.

The tops were sucked off grain bins and the feed semi was on its side. The office and other buildings are gone.

"I think we’ll be rebuilding," he said. "We do a lot of feed business and the feedmill is still standing."

Across the highway the foundation is all that’s left of Dale Rewerts’ house. Friends and family were helping clean up. A new machine shed that housed his old tractors is gone.

"The tornado went right through the center of my house," Rewerts said. "I was watching a NASCAR race and talking to my brother-in-law on the phone. He told me something was on the way. I told him it looked pretty clear and that I could hear the train coming. The train usually comes through about that time of day. I opened the blinds and that sucker was here. I hit the basement. It just wreaked havoc on everything, but I’m OK."

Because of the leaking anhydrous tanks, Rewerts left immediately and couldn’t come back until Monday night.


"My horse was killed in the tornado, and they finally let me back," he said. "I don’t know what I’m going to do. First I’ll get things cleaned up."

What To Read Next
Caitlin and Jason Keck’s two-year term on the American Farm Bureau Federation committee begins next month.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission met on Jan. 5, 2023, to consider the application for Summit Carbon Solutions.
Qualified Minnesota farmers will receive dollar-for-dollar matching money to purchase farmland.