WINTERSET, Iowa – Four of the seven people killed in devastating storms that tore through central Iowa were members of the same family who were huddled together in the pantry of a home that was razed by a powerful tornado, authorities said.
Two children, their father and their grandmother all died Saturday when a tornado hit the grandparents' home near rural Winterset that didn't have a basement. Family members said the children's mother, 8-year-old brother, grandfather and uncle survived the storm, but they were injured.
The children and their parents, from Blue Springs, Missouri, were visiting their grandmother, Melissa Bazley, 63, when the tornado hit. The storm killed Bazley, 37-year-old Michael Bolger and two of his three young children, 5-year-old Kinlee Bolger and 2-year-old Owen Bolger.
A GoFundMe page for the family says Kuri Bolger, who is the children’s mother and Bazley’s daughter, was hospitalized after being seriously injured. Lynn Larson said her daughter-in-law, Kuri Bolger, underwent surgery on her leg Monday and faces another surgery on her arm to repair broken bones. Her oldest grandson was treated at the hospital and released.
Larson said she and the rest of her family are “just devastated."
“I just can’t describe how wonderful Mike was. Everybody loved him,” Larson said. “It just rips your heart out. My grandchildren were wonderful. They were just the light of my life.”
Two others killed in the tornado — Rodney Clark, 64, and Cecilia Lloyd, 72 — lived in homes just down the street from Bazley that were also hit by the tornado. It was rated an EF-4, with peak winds of 170 mph (274 kph), the National Weather Service said Monday. The tornado was on the ground for nearly 70 miles (113 kilometers), leaving the longest path of destruction since a 1984 tornado that carved a path 117 miles (188 kilometers) long.
The seventh death came from Lucas County, about 54 miles (87 kilometers) southeast of Des Moines, when a separate tornado struck less than an hour later, injuring several other people. Officials there said Monday that Jesse Theron Fisher, 40, of Chariton, Iowa, died in the storm and another area resident remained hospitalized. The state Department of Natural Resources said that Fisher was in an RV at a campground at Red Haw State Park near Chariton when the storm struck.
The storms that raked Iowa on Saturday were the deadliest to occur in the state since May 2008, when one tornado destroyed nearly 300 homes and killed nine people in the northern Iowa city of Parkersburg. Another tornado a month later killed four boys at the Little Sioux Boy Scout ranch in western Iowa.
Saturday's storms damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and downed power lines and trees, causing some power outages.
The tornadoes were followed by winter storms overnight Sunday into Monday that dropped about 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) of snow in central Iowa and 6.5 inches (16.5 centimeters) in Mount Vernon in eastern Iowa.
The snow prompted officials to cancel Monday's planned storm cleanup efforts after hundreds of volunteers helped out on Sunday. The cleanup was expected to resume Tuesday, but more snow is in the forecast for Thursday, which could cause additional delays.
On Monday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster declaration for nine additional counties with storm damage that will allow state resources to be used to help with the recovery efforts in Adair, Benton, Decatur, Jasper, Lucas, Polk, Tama, Warren, and Wayne counties. She had already declared a disaster in Madison County, which is known for the “Bridges of Madison County” book and movie.
Elsewhere, the National Weather Service said the storms generated an EF-1 tornado in southeastern Wisconsin near Stoughton that included winds up to 80 mph. The storm flattened trees, snapped power poles and blew out windows in homes. No injuries were reported.
One expert estimated the storms Saturday likely caused more than $1 billion damage altogether.
The spelling of Kinlee Bolger's first name has been corrected.