Multiple fatalities after tornado rips through rural Iowa town, official says, as severe storms batter Midwest

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Multiple fatalities were reported after several tornadoes tore through western Iowa Tuesday afternoon, causing major damage to at least one small town, officials said, as robust storms raged through the Midwest.

A destructive storm moved through the town of Greenfield, Iowa — about 50 miles southwest of Des Moines — and spawned a tornado shortly before 5 p.m., causing “extensive damage” to many homes and other structures, according to Iowa State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Alex Dinkla told CNN.

“Unfortunately, we can confirm that there were fatalities from this tornado,” Dinkla said during a news conference later Tuesday evening. He did not provide further details about the deaths.

Residents were also injured, Dinkla said, and a local hospital also suffered tornado damage. Patients were transported to nearby hospitals for their injuries, the sergeant said.

Video captured by CNN affiliate KCCI shows the destructive path of the tornado that ripped through Greenfield. The images show decimated homes and bulldozed structures, piles of rubble, damaged cars and scores of fallen trees.

“There’s really nothing left,” Clel Baudler, a former Iowa state representative who lives a half-mile from Greenfield, told CNN on Tuesday. “It went right through Greenfield.”

Another storm-related death occurred in Adams County, Iowa, about 90 miles southwest of Des Moines, county medical examiner Lisa Brown told CNN. Brown could not provide additional details about the death, but said it was due to a tornado.

The strong line of thunderstorms that developed Tuesday afternoon prompted a rare “potentially hazardous situation” tornado warning for parts of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois from the Storm Prediction Center. The special type of tornado watch is only issued when there is unusually high confidence in the potential of multiple long-lived and EF2 or stronger tornadoes.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, in a press release, authorized the declaration of a state of emergency for 15 counties due to the storm outbreak, saying it will allow state resources to “respond to and recover from the impacts of the heavy weather.”

Reynolds also announced that she will visit Greenfield on Wednesday morning to assess damage from the severe weather, saying in a statement: “I am committed to deploying the full resources of the state in support of the response and recovery efforts.”

More than 30,000 customers were without power in Iowa as of 10:30 PM on Tuesday, according to Poweroutage.us.

An image shared by Omaha police on May 21, 2024 shows flooding at West Maple on Elkhorn Drive.  - Omaha PoliceAn image shared by Omaha police on May 21, 2024 shows flooding at West Maple on Elkhorn Drive.  - Omaha Police

An image shared by Omaha police on May 21, 2024 shows flooding at West Maple on Elkhorn Drive. – Omaha Police

Tornadoes are one of several serious hazards expected from Tuesday’s outbreak of severe thunderstorms, according to the SPC. Destructive hurricane-force winds of up to 90 miles per hour and softball-sized hail are also likely.

More than 25 million people in the region are at a level 3 of 5 or level 4 of 5 risk for severe thunderstorms on Tuesday, the SPC said.

The greatest concern for widespread, dangerous impacts is centered on much of Iowa, northwestern Illinois, southwestern Wisconsin and northern Missouri. Chicago, Milwaukee and other population centers are also at risk from damaging storms.

On May 21, 2024, a tornado is seen east of Corning, Iowa.  - KCCIOn May 21, 2024, a tornado is seen east of Corning, Iowa.  - KCCI

On May 21, 2024, a tornado is seen east of Corning, Iowa. – KCCI

Des Moines International Airport was temporarily closed late Tuesday afternoon as dangerous storms moved into Des Moines, prompting tornado warnings. The city remains in the bull’s-eye of the strongest storms and potential tornadoes.

“Two tornado warnings for the Des Moines metro, with both warnings reporting tornadoes. Seek Shelter,” the National Weather Service office there said at 4:45 PM local time.

Emergency management officials in Montgomery County, Iowa, confirmed Tuesday afternoon that “multiple tornadoes” have occurred in the county and no injuries have been reported so far. Officials are currently working to clear roads to access affected properties.

“Damage assessments will take place this evening and tomorrow,” the agency said.

A damaged wind turbine is seen north of Prescott, Iowa on May 21, 2024.  - KCCIA damaged wind turbine is seen north of Prescott, Iowa on May 21, 2024.  - KCCI

A damaged wind turbine is seen north of Prescott, Iowa on May 21, 2024. – KCCI

Flash flooding caused by heavy rain also threatens parts of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska, where flooding and tornadoes are in effect Tuesday afternoon. Rainfall totals of 1 to 3 inches are possible, with totals up to 5 inches expected in some places.

The storms are expected to peak in the Midwest during the afternoon and continue Tuesday night.

Powerful storms moved through parts of the Midwest Tuesday morning, bringing damaging hurricane winds and flooding rainfall. Parts of Omaha were flooded Tuesday morning as 3 to 6 inches of rain flooded eastern Nebraska. Multiple water rescues took place in the city, the Omaha Fire Department said on X.

More severe thunderstorms are expected to develop Wednesday across a 1,500-mile stretch from Texas to western New York. Any storm can bring damaging winds and hail. A few tornadoes are also possible on Wednesday, mainly from Texas to Kentucky.

Severe storms have been making their way across the US over the past week, including a devastating storm that hit Houston on Thursday, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without power amid unusual heat.

An Oklahoma City home was torn apart by storms on Sunday.  - Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman/USA TODAYAn Oklahoma City home was torn apart by storms on Sunday.  - Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman/USA TODAY

An Oklahoma City home was torn apart by storms on Sunday. – Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman/USA TODAY

Dangerous heat in Houston due to power outages

High temperatures in Houston will climb into the 90s each afternoon for much of the week as many residents remain without power Thursday due to devastating storms.

Severe storms unleashed a tornado and 100 mph winds last week in Harris County, which includes Houston, sending rain showers and large debris flying through the air as people took cover in cars, grocery stores and hotel lobbies.

The violent conditions left at least eight people dead, ripped out skyscraper windows, shut down critical electricity infrastructure, caused a sewage leak and made roads impassable.

Power has yet to be restored to more than 140,000 homes and businesses in Harris County as of Tuesday morning, according to PowerOutage.us. Although authorities had previously warned that restoring power could take weeks, the area’s electricity company has promised an earlier timeline.

Power restoration in Harris County will be “substantially complete” by Wednesday evening, utility provider CenterPoint Energy said in a Monday news release.

But the heat will take a very worrying turn for anyone without power after midweek.

A dangerous heat wave is sweeping across South Texas this week and will reach the central Gulf Coast by the weekend. Some daily high temperature records may be broken. The worst of the heat is expected to start this weekend in the Houston area. Memorial Day could be the city’s hottest day of the year so far, according to the National Weather Service.

“Record or near-record warm overnight temperatures will provide little to no relief for those without adequate or reliable cooling,” the National Weather Service warns.

Heat is the deadliest form of extreme weather and is a growing threat as human-induced climate change leads to longer and more intense periods of excessive heat.

The heat index – a measure of how warm the body actually feels – will rise above 90 degrees in the afternoon and occasionally reach 100 degrees for much of the work week. Heat index values ​​of 105 to 110 degrees are possible on weekends.

The heat relief will finally take place towards the end of the month.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of energy supplier CenterPoint Energy.

CNN’s Eric Zerkel contributed to this report.

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