One of the scenes from the May 30, 2008, tornado in Attica. Photo from Marion County website.

May 30 marks a decade since an F2 tornado ripped through Marion County, causing extensive damage to the unincorporated town of Attica.
Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Anderson was on his 29th day in the office when the tornado hit on May 30, 2008. He was on his way to Parkersburg, to learn more about emergency response from those on the ground following the F5 twister that leveled that town, when the storm began brewing.
Anderson was near Monroe when he turned around to keep closer tabs on the storm. Just as he arrived at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, calls began pouring into dispatch from Attica about the tornado touching down.
“Seeing the amount of destruction, initially, was just jaw-dropping,” Anderson said. His emotions quickly changed to anguish as he saw the shock and hurt on the faces of Attica residents. “That became the most difficult part,” he said.
The storm that brought the tornado started south of Melcher. It began to bounce around the county, from west to east. Anderson describes that, as the tornado reached a mile outside of Attica, the tornado spent more time on the ground. Damage from the storm reached all the way into Mahaska County.
By the time the storm was finished with Attica, Bob and Sue Mallory’s home was completely destroyed. The trailer across the street from their house was completely flipped onto its top. There was virtually no structure in the town that did not see siding, roof or some other kind of damage.
Mike Legvold, who was Chief of the Indiana Township Fire Department at the time, could not access the fire station before he and former Sheriff Ron Goemaat took over as co-incident commanders of the situation. The station was badly damaged by the storm. A bulldozer took down the remnants of the building before the day’s end. It would be nearly eight years later before the department had a completed, fully-functioning home that included a new community center.
Goemaat and Legvold restricted access to Attica. Nevertheless, nearly 300 people were in town to do their part to help the community. This included many from the fire and EMS community surrounding Attica, all of whom wanted to support Legvold and his department.
The volunteers were treated to a meal at Kin Folks’ Eatin’ Place. Rich and Connie Lambirth opened the doors to their restaurant, which became something of a command center for food, water and communications. Kin Folks did not sustain much damage from the tornado.
Among the hundreds served were from Marion County Secondary Roads, Vermeer and the Iowa Department of Transportation. The combined efforts of all of the agencies and private volunteers resulted in an Attica that had seemingly returned to normal.
“There was a huge difference in the look and feel between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.,” Anderson said. The streets were cleared of debris, the injured were cared for, the power was back on and most residents were able to return home.
The County set up a shelter that first night for anyone who needed it. There were two people who stayed the first night, and there was no need for it to remain open for a second. The American Red Cross responded and remained on sight for four or five days.
Anderson said it was decided early on that if first responders were going to take over a town, they were going to finish their work quickly. The sooner the cleanup took place, the sooner those affected could return to normal life.
“I have replayed it 100 times in my head,” Anderson said of the emergency response. “All we did was proper for the time and place. I never come up with anything we could have, should have done differently.”
The tornado served as Anderson’s introduction to the emergency management process, as well as what it is like to deal with the State of Iowa and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Marion County received a federal disaster declaration, which opened funding for public agencies and private residents to help make them whole, following the tornado. It was only a few months later when the County received a second such declaration, in response to flooding in Harvey and Tracy.
The tornado and floods were part of a difficult couple of years for the county. In December 2007, a record ice storm caused extensive damage throughout the county. The fallout from all of these events resulted in many secondary, gravel roads being turned to mud – causing much angst for the County.
Through it all, Marion County and her residents remain resilient. Everyone’s resiliency is what really stands out for Anderson, regarding the 2008 tornado. In the decade since, there have been minor disasters – including two tornadoes in 2017 – but none of which have brought the issues seen in 2008. The Attica tornado remains a benchmark for not only Anderson, but it can also serve as an example for others in his position.
“It was an experience we wouldn’t wish on anybody, but we’re stronger because of it,” Anderson said. “It has helped me as I’ve moved on in this job. That experience has made me better. I have a lot of county counterparts who haven’t dealt with anything like that.”

1 COMMENT

  1. It was a life changing event to say the least my home was damaged I think most home in town felt the impact of the storm to some extent from somewhat mild to extreme my home is 30 feet west of the old fire dept site was my first day of vacation from work god bless all that helped fema not so much

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here