Iowa Tornado Destroys Town, But Residents All Survive

Quick-thinking police department spares a town from loss of life.

April 11, 2011— -- When a fierce tornado barreled through Mapleton, Iowa, it leveled more than 100 homes, but because of an early warning given residents not one person was killed and there was only one injury, the town sheriff said today.

The storm that roared through Mapleton on Saturday night was the kind that usually leaves a tragic legacy of death along with the destruction -- most of the buildings in the town of 1,200 were destroyed.

"It's just a war zone, a war zone," Mapleton resident Sandy Davis told ABC News.

Today, the devastation caused by the storm leaves this small American town almost unrecognizable. Sixty percent of the town has been destroyed, but it could have been much worse.

Mapleton Sheriff Jeff Pratt saw the approaching storm clouds and called it in. He and his deputies, along with trained storm spotters, began tracking the storm across the countryside and notified communities in its path to blow their warning sirens earlier than usual. That gave people the time to scramble into basements or seek other shelter.

"There were going to be people hurt, a lot of people hurt, so we called for all the help we could get," Pratt told ABC News today.

Authorities said the 15 minutes of warning -- five or 10 minutes more than usual -- given to residents were crucial in preventing any deaths or serious injuries as a tornado barreled through the town.

Jennifer Goslar said that when she heard the sirens, she grabbed her son and ran into the cellar.

"We just said the lord's prayer over and over and over," Goslar said. "My husband could hear the ripping of the wood and stuff and he said, 'Oh, our stuff is gone,' and I said, 'It doesn't matter, who cares?'"

The sheriff said those precious extra few minutes may have made all the difference.

"We don't have any fatalities, so I think it made a huge difference," he said. "We stacked 15 ambulances here, [planning for] the worst and we only used two."

A Community Recovers

"We're Iowans, we all stick together, and we work hard," Pratt said.

This is evident as soon as you see the way the local community is coming together following the storm. Today, school is closed in Mapleton, but the kids are hard at work.

ABC News found high school senior Chase Collins helping rebuild, even though his house was left standing.

"It's amazing that it happened, but the more amazing part is seeing everyone come together and really working," he said. "This is the right thing to do."

The sheriff, a local leader who also coaches high school football, basketball and golf, is also hard at work.

"I know everybody in town, so a lot more hugs to people than anything else, just to tell them that it's going to be OK," he said.

Even though so many homes were completely leveled by the powerful storm, ABC News was told there is no need for emergency shelters in town. Neighbors have all been taking care of each other, making sure no one is left in the cold, which is a show of strength after tragedy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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