Tornadoes of 2001
Mount Ayr, Ringgold county, Iowa
From April 10-11 of 2001, one of the worst strings of tornadoes in history hit the United States with 79 outbreaks across 6 States. Iowa witnessed 28 of those tornadoes, breaking the previous record for the number of events in a single day. Local news reported at least three deaths across the state. In Ringgold County, an F3 tornado trailed up from Missouri through Ringgold and ended in Madison County. The storm was the most powerful tornado in the two-day event. The tornado measured 24 miles by 500 yards at its widest point and traveled over 60 miles. Hail and strong winds contributed to the $1.5 million in property damage, the most damage of any of the 79 storms. The tornado utterly demolished multiple homes and businesses in the Mount Ayr area.
Toni Freihage, an employee of the Ringgold County Sherriff’s Department, recalled the storm: “Everyone was aware of the storm. We had high winds and rain. One of our officers advised us he had spotted a tornado. It was pretty scary.” The residents of Ringgold County were lucky. While plenty of property was damaged, everyone survived the storm. A couple of counties over, the story was not the same. An F2 tornado blew through the town of Agency, Iowa, and took the lives of two women, Mary Ellen Hewitt and Helen Bacon.
By May, President Bush had declared Ringgold County and twelve other counties across the Midwest as federal disaster areas, opening up FEMA funding for clean-up and rebuilding. Tornadoes are nothing new for Ringgold County, but damage as extensive as the 2001 tornado had never before occurred.
Mount Ayr is a small town with a population of under 2,000 residents. Millions of dollars in damage is never an easy fix, but it becomes significantly more difficult when resources are limited. Severe weather is a special burden to smaller towns. Not only are the financial demands of preparing and rebuilding after a storm immense, but when there is loss of life, it’s personal.
Sources: on-line: “Notable Weather Incidents of Ringgold County, Iowa,” Ringgold County IAGenWeb Project , October 2017; “15-Year Anniversary of Agency, Iowa Tornado,” NWS Des Moines, April 2016; “High End Tornado History in Iowa,” NWS Des Moines, July 2008; “Federal Disaster Declared for 13 Iowa Counties Affected by Flooding and Severe Storms,” FEMA, May 2001; “Two Killed as Tornadoes Spread Across Midwest,” CNN, April 2001.