A devastating Tornado hit Iowa City late last night. I had no idea what was happening, I knew the storm was serious, since I went out and collected a few hailstones and posted a picture. But soon the storm subsided, the emergency sirens stopped blaring, and my cable TV was off the air, so I just went to bed.
The next morning, I was awakened by a phone call from my sister in Oregon, asking if I was all right. I was barely awake and I could only think to myself, “what the hell?” She said there were news reports of a huge tornado striking the city, this was the first I’d heard of it, but I reassured her that I was fine. Within a few hours, TV news started reporting the true level of devastation. I am releasing a Fair Use compilation of some local TV news clips, click on the image to play the video clip.
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Live news coverage originated from the most heavily damaged building in downtown, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. It seems that whenever a tornado strikes in Iowa, the local church is always destroyed. I had a strange wish that I could have been there in person to witness it, I could have been the heathen anti-theist buddhist bellowing at the fleeing parishioners, “where is your god now?” News coverage showed other local landmarks that had been flattened, like the old Dairy Queen. I had to laugh at the wreckage, it was splattered with blood-red cherry syrup.
But I should not make light of the situation. Millions of dollars of property was damaged and destroyed. Low income housing areas near the University are devastated, and many hapless young college students are now homeless, having lost their first independent homes. A sorority house was destroyed, and the sisters put on their bravest smiling faces for the camera, as they described being in the house as it was torn apart. That was one block from my childhood home, I used to deliver newspapers to the sorority on my paper route. I wonder if my childhood home is undamaged, it is a historic Victorian house in the oldest neighborhood in the city.
I noticed a short interview with a woman through the broken window of the hair salon where I get my hair cut. The salon wasn’t badly damaged, just some broken windows and fallen ceiling tiles, they should be back up and running before my next haircut appointment in a couple weeks. Next to the hair salon is a liquor store, the local student newspaper The Daily Iowan reported that their wall collapsed and students looted it (archived PDF story). I suspect that looting was more widespread than generally reported. The storm struck the downtown area late at night, just as the bars were full of students soaking up liquor. Newspapers reported that after the storm, crowds of thousands of students wandered through the downtown streets, but this is not particularly unusual for any Thursday night in the bar district. As the weekend approaches, city officials seem most concerned with directing the student population away from the closed bar district.
I was shocked to see the damage at the auto dealers. The worst damage was out by Highway 1, a few blocks from the storage facility where I have almost everything I own in a storage lockup. I frantically called them and was relieved to hear that the buildings were undamaged and my stuff is safe.
As I watched the unfolding story of my hometown’s devastation, I had mixed feelings. I hate this town and am desperate to move away from here, I try not to engage with the city in any way that might form more attachments, yet I discover that I am more attached to this town than I care to admit. This makes it even more difficult to move on. This town is full of people who pass through, and in their short time here, they form attachments to institutions and landmarks that are obviously all too impermanent. It is time for me to move on, and stop caring about this town. And that is the hardest thing to do of all.