Un-Natural Disasters +5: Parkersburg - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Un-Natural Disasters +5: Parkersburg

New homes dot the landscape following the 2008 Parkersburg tornado New homes dot the landscape following the 2008 Parkersburg tornado

Five years since the EF-5 tornado sliced through Parkersburg, the community continues to rebuild both physically and mentally.

The May 25, 2008 tornado killed seven people in Parkersburg and two more in nearby New Hartford.

Like so many others, Virgil Goodrich survived the storm in his basement and emerged to find a different Parkersburg.

"I found a pair of blue jeans in the back yard that weren't mine but were my size so I kept them, but that was about the only clothes we had other than what we had on our back... A friend of ours from Aplington came over and he said, 'what are you going to do?' 'Gee, I hadn't even thought of that.' So he said, 'You're coming with us.' So we stayed with them. People helped each other," said Goodrich.

Aplington-Parkersburg High School took a direct hit.

"It became real apparent to me and the other administrators that we needed to get the word out right away that not only are we going to rebuild, but we're going to rebuild in the same location, and we're going to rebuild in one year's time," said superintendent Jon Thompson.

The school opened 15 months later - with new classrooms, a common area, two gyms, a community fitness center, and a tornado safe wrestling room.

It can accommodate the entire student body and staff.

"It's been five years, the memory starts to fade... There's a little part in us that wants to move on and forget about it but it's always gonna be a part of us," said Thompson.

"I wish somebody had a manual that said after this, this, this and this, here's what you do," said A-P High guidance counselor Gary Flanigan.

In the span of about four years, students experienced not only the tornado, but also the murder of popular football coach Ed Thomas, a teacher's death, and a student's suicide.

"As a guidance counselor, there are times I felt overwhelmed. As a student body, depression was a big, huge issue and I think at one point, at least 50 percent of our kids were suffering through depression. That just doesn't happen," Flanigan said.

Counselors from the University of Northern Iowa and professional agencies have met with kids regularly since the tornado.

Flanigan says that's been a huge help.

"I don't feel like I have a sense of time anymore. When did this happen? I don't remember. It's amazing to see where we're at. Faculty members live in this neighborhood and you can see their house. It's neat to look out the window and see a town again," said Flanigan.

"It's tough to talk about sometimes but it's renewal with remembrance," said Chris Luhring.

He was police chief when the storm hit.

He's now the city administrator.

"Everybody heals in different ways so going back five years in so many ways, it doesn't seem that long at all for me. You talk to someone else, it seems like 10 years ago," said Luhring.

Many homes and businesses are rebuilt - as is city hall.

Most of the population stayed.

"Researchers and scientists who've come here say it's unprecedented. They can't believe we were destroyed by an EF-5 less than 5 years ago and we've recovered this well," said Luhring.

He credits that to Parkersburg's people and the thousands of volunteers who've helped the town rebuild.

"I'd like to say Parkersburg is Iowa's town because without the citizens, the volunteers, the construction workers, church and civic groups coming here to help Parkersburg recover, there's no way we'd ever be where we're at today," said Luhring.

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