BRONSON, Iowa | As the sun crept over the horizon east of Shane and Angie Williams' home on Saturday morning, their dog, Bullet, limped home.
"He just came home this morning," Angie said, petting the dog as he kept his right hind leg off the ground.
Home. Or what's left of it. The Williams family lost just about everything when a tornado hammered their farmstead three miles southeast of Bronson early Friday night. The home's roof and exterior walls were blown apart, as were two garages, a barn, a machine shed, a corn crib and more.
On Saturday morning, Shane Williams went from picking up books inside a bedroom to hopping into a John Deere tractor cab that has no glass. The tractor started, allowing him to push an empty semi back on its wheels.
Shattered glass, broken boards, twisted metal and busted toys littered the farm, leaving the couple and their oldest son, Cody, 19, to collect the pieces and make some sense of it all.
"It was quiet, really quiet," Shane William says, as he examined hulks of metal thrown into the head of his John Deere combine. "It wasn't that freight train sound you hear about."
He was home around 6:30 p.m. Friday with Cody and three of the younger Williams children: Dakota, Casey and Haley. Daughter Ashley, homecoming queen at Lawton-Bronson High School, had already departed for a football game at rival Woodbury Central High School in nearby Moville. Angie was gone, too, picking up items in a store at Kingsley, Iowa, some 20 miles north.
"We heard about the storms south of here on the radio," said Shane Williams, who farms, feeds livestock and works as a seed dealer. "We went into the house and then I looked out and saw the storm coming. It was wrapped in rain.
"Then it got real quiet, real eerie, and that's when I had the kids go to the cellar," he said.
Shane and Cody Williams peered out and saw corn stalks swirling above. They bolted down the stairs as the twister struck, ripping apart the home and every building on this hilltop acreage, killing two of their horses in the process.
"You could feel the pressure change in your ears," Cody Williams said.
In seconds, or maybe a minute or two, it was over. The storm went up Eastland Avenue, barreling north toward Bronson. It struck the Packard home a half-mile north, then Ruth Jensen's house, destroying both. Nobody was home at either place.
It then hit the George and Mary Jane Seubert farm, toppling four outbuildings and sending a tree through the roof. Their home, however, appeared saved. The Seuberts, like the Packards and Jensen, weren't home. They were in Washington, D.C., attending the wedding of a family member.
"You look at the destruction this thing did and you can't believe nobody was hurt," said Dave Amick, former Woodbury County sheriff who serves as mayor of Bronson, population 323. "It really is a miracle."
The massive system, a rarity for October, spawned at least six tornadoes that injured up to 15 people in Wayne, Neb., and toppled homes and livestock facilities while snapping trees and power lines from Wayne to Alta, Iowa. In some areas, destruction blankets a mile-wide swath.
Homes fell in at least eight communities, including Wayne, Jackson, and Macy, Neb., and in or near the Iowa towns of Bronson, Climbing Hill, Sloan, Moville, Kingsley, and Pierson.
Damage to corn and soybean crops on the eve of harvest may exceed the monetary loss homeowners and renters suffered.
"We were just going to start harvest," said Cody Williams, a junior at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. "And now the corn is down all over here."
Corn was flat across several fields southeast of Bronson on Saturday. The same was seen up a jagged path in Siouxland, running southwest to northeast. Hail, widespread in this frightful weather event, can knock mature soybeans to the ground, rendering a harvest effort futile. There's a chance farmers may salvage corn ears that now rest atop the soil.
In the early morning hours on Saturday, the harvest wasn't yet registering on the radar of Shane Williams, lifelong farmer. He worked to obtain enclosed trailers as a shelter for family possessions and keepsakes thrown about his farm.
"Angie, we need to get as much of our stuff protected from the rain," he said.
The family spent Friday night in the home of Shane's father, Norman Williams, two miles southeast of here. Where Bullet took shelter from the storm, the family isn't sure. They'll never know. They're just thankful he hopped back home.
As the sun rose, so did activity at the farm. More than 40 friends and Lawton-Bronson teachers, staff members and students descended on the farm to help the family pick up the pieces. The Lawton-Bronson volleyball team, a team led by senior Ashley Williams, canceled a tournament appearance on Saturday so teammates could help with cleanup detail.
"We've got teachers, volleyball players, junior high football players, parents and adults throughout the community here helping," said Jeff Thelander, superintendent of schools at Lawton-Bronson. "It's a powerful response. We'll continue to help people in our district on Sunday, and, on Monday, we'll have things put in place to help our students who have been affected."
The American Red Cross was also on hand throughout the area, providing coffee, water and snacks. A crew from Mapleton, Iowa, a community battered by a 2011 tornado, popped up at homes and farms around Moville and Climbing Hill, Iowa, offering helping hands in exchange for the assistance Mapleton residents received two years ago.
Back at Bronson, neighbor Kelly Brower worked with Cody Williams to pull tools and toys from the brick and glass where a Williams garage once stood. Brower couldn't believe the mayhem left in seconds by this twister. He was just as astonished at his own luck.
"I live a quarter-mile from here," Brower said, "and we weren't touched."