Through the twisted frame of Seymour Community High School’s field goal posts, the old gym took the brunt of the damage from a tornado that raged through Wayne County on the night of March 6, leaving the skeleton of its roof frame. Photos by Jason Selby
EF2 TWISTER TOUCHES DOWN IN WAYNE COUNTY MARCH 6, DESTROYING HOMES AND RIPPING ROOFS FROM BOTH GYMS
On Monday night, March 6, an estimated EF2 strength tornado roared through Wayne County and touched down in the middle of Seymour. The storm left Wayne County a disaster area.
When residents woke the next morning, the widespread destruction was inescapable. Several homes in Seymour were damaged or leveled. Yet despite the disaster, none of the town’s 700 residents were seriously injured during the tornado—stumbling upon the debris and downed trees, a bystander might call that a miracle.
An EF2 twister would have wind speeds between 111 miles per hour and 135 miles per hour. Given what the storm path left behind, the tornado might have been closer to EF3 as designated by the National Weather Service, with winds up to 165 miles per hour. It appeared the tornado—one of 10 as announced by the NWS—left two swaths beginning in Seymour and trailing away approximately 12 miles into unplanted crop fields and the countryside.
A tornado also reportedly touched down in Appanoose County.
A sad vista for many was Seymour Community High School’s old gym, which has seen decades of student-athletes pass beneath its rafters while competing in the Bluegrass Conference. Sun arched onto the court through the skeleton of what remained of its roof, as Superintendent Brad Breon examined the damage, which brought newspapers and television crews from Des Moines to southern Iowa.
The new gym also sustained significant damage, its insulation whirled and stuffed into school buses with broken windows, wrapped around a nearby play set, and hung from trees across town. A pole landed on one bus. The chain link fence surrounding the outside basketball court also held insulation and lay twisted on its side, as the wind completely ripped out the backboard glass.
A rowboat came to rest on the football field, stopped by a wooden post. Nearby, a set of bleachers left an empty spot in the grass, the stands deposited several feet away, warped into a V. The stadium booth was uprooted along with a nearby tree and shoved onto its back. The pole of one goalpost was flipped upside down to stick in the ground, as a chair sat in the middle of the end zone.
Across the road to the west, the moon could be seen through holes in a home’s roof. A Helena Chemical Company building was leveled. Power lines stretched across the ground. Several houses were completely destroyed.
On the west side of the school building, the tornado shattered most of the windows and bent the flagpole so that it almost touched the brick façade.
On Wed., March 8, Governor Terry Branstad issued a proclamation of disaster emergency for Appanoose, Muscatine, Scott, and Wayne counties in response to the March 6 severe weather.
The same day, several nearby schools, including Moravia, Mormon Trail and Wayne, rallied to help their neighbor.
“The day after the tornado hit, we had students and staff wanting to go help,” Wayne Superintendent Dave Daughton said. “We had to slow them down a little, and told them we had contacted Seymour, and they would let us know. Caleb Housh called Tuesday afternoon, once they were able to get plans in place, so we threw it together quickly, so we could inform the kids. We had 182 students and around 15 staff members go, all by choice.”
Housh, mayor of Seymour, said the disaster has only brought their small community together. Channel 13 photojournalists and reporters joined the crowd on March 8, along with Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds.
“It was heartwarming to see how kids were wanting to help,” Daughton said. “We talk a lot about servant leadership and the meaning of that, but this was an example. We also know that if the roles were reversed, the Seymour Community and their kids would be right here to help us. That is just how things are in small towns and in Iowa. No matter what, you help people in times of need. The town of Seymour and the school have a long road ahead, but they will make it, and we will continue to help in any way that we possibly can.”
Also on the scene managing the cleanup was Wayne Junior High reading and special education teacher Rebecca Roberts.
“I worked with the junior high kids and they worked the entire time we were there,” Roberts said. “I was so proud of them. It was hard work, but they did not take a break until lunchtime and then jumped right back into it when they finished eating. Several of them wanted to come back [March 9] to work more.”
The Seymour and Bluegrass Conference signs visible through the roof of the new gym. Photo by Jason Selby
In Seymour, officials closed school for the rest of the week. For the rest of the 2016-17 year, teachers will instruct courses out of the abandoned nursing home, formerly Continental Care Center, on the east side of town.
According to an official press release from the governor’s office, after being labeled a disaster area:
“The governor’s proclamation allows state resources to be utilized to respond to and recover from the effects of this severe weather. The proclamation also activates the Iowa Individual Assistance Program for qualifying residents of the four counties.
“The Iowa Individual Assistance Program provides grants of up to $5,000 for households with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level or a maximum annual income of $40,320, for a family of three. Grants are available for home or car repairs, replacement of clothing or food, and for the expense of temporary housing. Original receipts are required for those seeking reimbursement for actual expenses related to storm recovery. The grant application and instructions are available on the Iowa Department of Human Services website. Potential applicants have 45 days from the date of the proclamation to submit a claim.”
As well, the ISU Wayne County Extension and Outreach has posted resources to help after the recent disaster, at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/wayne/. Topics include hiring a contractor, managing storm damaged tress, food safety, managing finances, stress and more. Materials have been left at City Hall in Seymour, or copies can be obtained at the Wayne County Extension Office.
Wayne Community Foundation has established the Seymour Disaster Relief Fund. This fund is accepting contributions and will allocate those funds to local nonprofits to assist in tornado-related community needs.
Monetary donations may be made payable to the Wayne Community Foundation with “Seymour Disaster Relief” noted in the memo and mailed to either the Wayne Community Foundation, PO Box 82, Corydon, IA 50060 or to the City of Seymour, 109 N. 5th Street, Seymour, IA 52590. Online donations can be made through Pay Pal on the Foundation’s website: www.waynecommunityfoundation.org with “Seymour Disaster Relief” declared under special accounts.
Wayne Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization with 501(c)(3) status and is waiving their fees for any donations made through this account.