Storms cause significant damage in Nebraska, Iowa

Damaged law enforcement cruisers reflect tree branches in Blair, Neb., Wednesday, June 4, 2014, following a severe storm that passed through the region the previous evening. Blair and other cities were pounded by large hail as wave after wave of powerful thunderstorms moved through the midwest. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Damaged law enforcement cruisers reflect tree branches in Blair, Neb., Wednesday, June 4, 2014, following a severe storm that passed through the region the previous evening. Blair and other cities were pounded by large hail as wave after wave of powerful thunderstorms moved through the midwest. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Residents of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa started cleaning up damage Wednesday caused by baseball-sized hail and winds as strong as 91 mph.

Tuesday’s storms caused extensive damage in Blair, Fort Calhoun, Uehling and Craig, Nebraska, and in the western Iowa town of Missouri Valley.

The damage total wasn’t immediately clear, but it’s likely to be sizeable. Officials estimate that the courthouse alone in Blair sustained more than $1.2 million in damage because the rain continued for hours after hail shattered windows and skylights.

Emergency Manager Bill Pook said the Washington County sheriff’s office also sustained $600,000 to $700,000 damage to its vehicles and offices.

Pook said hundreds of cars and hundreds of homes were damaged in Blair. And that doesn’t include the more than 4,000 damaged vehicles on Woodhouse car dealership lots in Blair and Missouri Valley.

Nearly every home in Blair and any vehicles parked outside sustained damage. Paramedics took 13 people from Blair’s Walmart to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries sustained while trying to cross the parking lot in the hail, but those were the only injuries linked to the storms.

The storms drenched the area as they moved through Tuesday evening. Omaha set a record for the day with 5.3 inches of rain, Blair reported 3.8 inches and several other Nebraska cities received more than 2 inches.

In Iowa, the town of Lamoni received 5.65 inches of rain, Corning and Bedford received more than 4 inches and five other towns received more than 3 inches of rain.

Gov. Dave Heineman visited Blair and Fort Calhoun on Wednesday afternoon to see the storm damage.

Blair resident Bill Thomas said it was awful sitting in his basement of his home across the street from the courthouse during the storm and listening to hailstones smash through windows upstairs over and over again.

Thomas lost 10 windows on two sides of his house, his roof has several holes and his truck’s windshield is shattered. His wood siding fared better than most homes in Blair that were shredded by hail.

“I was the first guy at the lumber yard after the hail stopped,” said Thomas, who had to lean his head out the window of his truck on the drive.

Thomas, who works as a contractor, boarded up his windows in the middle of the storm, so he was able to avoid significant water damage. But he said it “probably wasn’t too smart” to be up on a ladder while lightning lit up the sky.

Another Blair resident, Donna Jones, said she saw widespread damage when she went to work Wednesday morning.

“Everybody is in a daze,” Jones said. “There’s not a house that isn’t touched.”

Jones said she has a hole in her roof, but one of her daughters and her husband lost nearly everything when the hail smashed the large windows of their apartment. Broken glass flew into their belongings and then rain poured in for hours afterward.

Jones said she’s just glad that her family is OK.

“Everybody is just trying to do the best they can and clean up,” she said.

Several tornadoes were reported as the storms moved across Nebraska, and at least one tornado was confirmed near Hampton in Hamilton County.

National Weather Service meteorologist Van DeWald said it appears that most of the damage in eastern Nebraska was caused by strong, straight-line winds and hail, not tornadoes.

“When you take baseball-sized hail and combine it with 70 to 80 mph winds, it can do a lot of damage,” DeWald said.

The storms knocked out power to more than 10,000 customers mostly in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa Tuesday. The town of Fort Calhoun also lost natural gas service.

But utility service was restored to nearly everyone who lost service by Wednesday evening.

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