EARLY, Iowa -- John Brinkman matter-of-factly assessed the damage to his eponymous repair business, where the roof lay propped against a nearby house Sunday.
"I'm not going to cry over spilled milk," he said. "I'm thinking of it as a total loss. My walls are bowing."
Brinkman was among many left to sift through the wreckage of the previous night's tornado, grateful the powerful storm had taken only property -- and electrical power -- not lives in the Sac County town of 605 people.
"The best part is, only minor injuries," said Robyn Padgett, whose Crossroads Restaurant had provided shelter for customers Saturday night and was open for business Sunday, powered by a generator.
Padgett was at home when the storm struck and waited it out there. She said she got worried when she heard a tornado cell was moving near Odebolt, and when a warning siren went off, she and her family headed to the basement.
"We had the grandkids, and they were under the desk," Padgett said.
'WE ARE BLESSED'
Nearby Odebolt, 13 miles to the southwest, escaped unscathed, but a tornado did major damage to the rural 290th Street farm of Jenny and Brian Buehler.
“We lost all of our outbuildings except for one small barn,” said Jenny Buehler, who was not at home during the storm. Brian Buehler had gone to the basement and escaped injury, even though the roof was extensively damaged.
"The tornado pretty much made it look like a bomb went off," said Ronald Sutton, a sophomore at Odebolt-Arthur-Battle Creek-Ida Grove High School who was attending prom at Skate Palace in Ida Grove when the storm moved through. "Right when it hit Mapleton was when we started hearing about it," he said Sunday while working at Jamboree Foods grocery store.
Sutton said school officials moved the students from the skating rink to the high school at 9:30 p.m., more than two hours prior to when they were slated to move there at midnight.
On Sunday, offers of help poured in from neighbors, Jenny Buehler said.
“We are definitely blessed to live in the community we do," she said.
EARLY PICKS UP PIECES
There were signs that Early was pulling together, too, as people hauled downed limbs and walked around in groups to assess damage in the storm's aftermath Sunday. Two boys shooting buckets on the combined city tennis and basketball court lent a sense of near-normalcy to the town, where law enforcement and fire vehicles blocked all street entrances from the west off U.S. Highway 71.
Particle board, shingles, tree limbs and insulation was strewn on lawns just west of the Crossroads Restaurant. A block farther west, three-fourths of Noll Trucking's brick building at 113 Second St. was spilled over roughly two lots.
Robert and Darlene Noll live just south of the business. Robert Noll described hearing the siren go off Saturday night, then debris hit the house, then the electricity went out. Noll initially thought the next distinctive sound was hail hitting the area, but it was the tornado, he figured.
He peered outside, saw swirling air and then later the extensive collapse of the Noll Trucking building, which dates to the 1940s. "I just practically started screaming, 'My shop is gone,' " Noll said.
The two main trucks he had in the building received minor damage, a silver lining of sorts.
"I am not out of business. For a couple thousand dollars, I can be back in business -- without a shop," Noll said as family members extracted ladders and a sandblaster from among the scatttered bricks.
Nevertheless, the view from the corner of Second and Main street downtown was one of devastation. Looking south to Main and First streets, the former Payless Cashways building was destroyed. Many pieces had blown a half-block north, knocking out the south windows of the Heartland Marketing Group business.
North of the intersection of Second and Main, the site of John Brinkman Repair, four trees were so full of insulation they appeared laden with blossoms of surreal pink. One of the four was also adorned with a 4-foot-by-12-foot piece of sheet metal.
The National Weather Service logged four tornadoes in Sac County on Saturday night.
On Sunday, two groups of Rural Electric Cooperative workers fixed power lines along U.S. Highway 20 in Sac County and more extensively in Ida County. Over a span of about 250 yards, crews were putting up at least a half-dozen poles and repairing lines Sunday. An Ida County deputy sheriff said the crew had been working since 9 a.m. and likely would be there most of the day.
The storm struck Early about 9 p.m. Saturday. After leaving portions of Sac County in ruins, it continued northeast, through the far southeast corner of Buena Vista County, where Lisa Kraft of rural Newell described a lost garage, barn and outbuildings and damaged siding on her house.
"It definitely was a tornado. Some people said it was multiple tornadoes," Kraft said.
Kraft wasn't home when the tornado hit. She was attending a wedding reception in the Knights of Columbus Hall in Fonda. Some guests left after the tornado warning was issued, she said, but she was among those who rode out the storm in the hall's basement for about two hours.
She said she felt fortunate, given other damage reports in a small town eight miles north. "Varina is pretty much wiped out," she said.