MAPLETON, Iowa – On Saturday night in Mapleton, the show didn’t go on.
Maple Valley/Anthon-Oto High School students performing “Saving the Wild, Wild West” were stopped 10 minutes into the show when choir director Brian Sneltzer ran up front and yelled “Stop!”
Sneltzer, who did the lighting for the show, informed the crowd it should stay put as the warning sirens in Mapleton sounded.
Members of the crowd and cast were then divided into two groups and moved into a pair of underground locker rooms.
“We didn’t realize the severity of it,” said Maddie Walsh, an MVAO senior acting in her final high school drama production. “At different times in school we’ve had to go to the basement. We were laughing and cracking jokes about how we wouldn’t forget this play.”
The mood grew serious as a school warning siren sounded. One child began crying. Loud crashes outside could be heard.
“My mom (Michelle) is an EMT and she was paged to help someone who was trapped,” Maddie Walsh said.
In minutes it was over. The cast and crowd were asked to stay in the locker rooms for another five minutes or so.
Walsh said they emerged into a hallway near the entrance where the roof had been damaged. Outside she could see one of the two MVAO greenhouses was missing. The other was flipped and torn.
“It was the kind of scene you’d see on TV, from somewhere else,” Walsh said of the storm’s wake. “It was weird to be living it.”
Students walked outside to see a roof from a nearby home lying in the street. Dozens of trees blocked roadways all around the school. In minutes, cast members and adults began moving trees to clear the way for emergency responders.
“People were pretty shaken up by this point,” said Walsh.
She joined her father, Jody, in taking students home who needed a ride. Jody Walsh also checked in on other homes in town.
“My dad had to drive up on a lawn just to get one student home,” Maddie Walsh said. “That’s the moment it really hit.”
Those who couldn’t get home were asked to remain overnight at the school, she said. The high school and middle school joined the Mapleton Community Center in offering a place to stay for those who lost or suffered damage to their home.
“Sunday will be a surreal experience,” Walsh added. “It’s tough to see the town like this, but it will also be neat to see the community come together. Church services are already being turned into cleanup services.”