Aid sought for tornado victims
SIBLEY, Iowa -- American Red Cross personnel packed up their supplies in Sibley Sunday evening and headed south toward Cherokee, Iowa, and another natural disaster -- flooding.
Their departure is a sign that emergency response efforts are wrapping up after multiple tornadoes wreaked havoc on farmsteads in eastern Lyon County and western Osceola County Friday night.
"Right now, we've basically disbanded our traffic control for the areas that were damaged, and we're asking for volunteers to clean up the fields," said Sibley Fire Chief Ken Huls Monday afternoon.
The command center at the Sibley Fire Hall has also closed, and volunteers are asked to report directly to the damaged farms to offer help to the victims.
"Any volunteers with gloves, boots and hands (are needed)," said Huls. He encouraged any church groups and civic organizations interested in helping to carpool to the sites to alleviate traffic congestion on the rural roads.
People unable to aid in the cleanup efforts may give to the victims in other ways. Deb Goettig, Osceola County Emergency Management Coordinator, said a donation fund has been established at the Ashton State Bank for Henry and Twila Bents. She is unaware of possible funds for other victims of the tornadoes.
Also, furniture, clothing and household goods may be donated to Second Beginnings, 736 Poplar Drive, Sibley. All donations will be made available to those who lost their homes and possessions in the storm.
Goettig, whose position with the county ends Wednesday, said anyone who needs assistance after that day should contact Osceola County Emergency Management Commission Chair Bill Imhoff at (712) 724-6175.
As of Monday, Huls said 21 area fire departments, along with the Osceola, Lyon and Dickinson county sheriff's departments, Sheldon Police Department and Iowa State Patrol responded to the scene following the tornadoes.
Firefighters came from as far as Elk Point, S.D., and North Sioux City, Iowa.
"It's just phenomenal the response we had," said Huls. "We call it mutual aid -- that's what we're here for. Usually in a disaster or anything major -- of this magnitude -- we call mutual aid right away. There's no way one fire department could handle the work of 200 men."
Just as important as the manpower were the trucks and radios brought. Huls said the incident command system was set up immediately after search and rescue was completed Friday night.
"We needed to know who was in each area at all times," he said. "We didn't want John Q. Citizen down there just to be a Looky Lou."
Lookers still urged
to stay away
Huls said people began driving into the storm-ravaged areas as soon as daylight broke Saturday morning, making it difficult for emergency response teams and power companies to do their work.
"We had people trying to go through (areas where) power lines were still down," said Huls. "A lot of times people want to see things that they've never seen before -- especially something of this magnitude. There are a lot of people who don't have the patience to allow us to do our jobs.
"All it does is create a traffic nightmare," he added. "People were trouncing over and driving over things that needed to be picked up. People need to have respect for people that are in a bad situation."
Huls said emergency responders appreciated those who refrained from driving out "just to look" at the damage. He encourages people who aren't planning to volunteer in the cleanup efforts to stay away for at least a few more days to keep the roads clear for those who can help.
"The townships are out there going through ditches for debris," he added.
As for the Sibley firefighters, Huls said they are winding down as well. Sunday and Monday response was on a volunteer basis -- that was after Friday night's tornadoes and Saturday night's tornado warning kept people in the department going virtually non-stop.
"For the first 24 to 36 hours there were guys going on pure adrenaline," Huls said. "They did their jobs wholeheartedly. On top of all that, we had the Red Cross here. My hats are off to those people -- they even cleaned my fire hall for me. They knew we were tired."