MOVILLE, Iowa | Students from two Northwest Iowa schools walked rows of beans and what used to be rows of corn on Wednesday, retrieving items tornadoes hurled from homes, garages and campers Friday night.
Helping hands from students at Woodbury Central and Kingsley-Pierson may get farmers like Marc Fixsel into the fields as soon as possible.
Fixsel, who raises corn and soybeans nine miles southeast of Moville, planned to combine beans last Saturday. Plans changed when a tornado leveled his two-car garage, knocked his home off its foundation and tossed the family camper over their home, over their vehicles, and into their fields.
The camper busted apart, spilling everything but the kitchen sink across Fixsel's fields. And that wasn't a given. The camper's sink was out there somewhere. Woodbury Central High School junior Landan Paulsen, after all, grabbed the camper's microwave from a row of soybeans shortly after this mass field sweep began. Classmate Halle Still picked up an alarm clock and an electronic picture frame.
"I figured I'd round up some friends and we'd do this," said Woodbury Central High School senior Erik Fixsel, oldest of Marc and Amy Fixsel's two sons. "I had no idea the school would be coming out to help. We've had a lot of help since the storm."
Marc Fixsel choked up as he searched for words to thank volunteers, the number of which has surpassed 100. "We can't thank people enough," he said.
Elsewhere in the region, volunteers from the American Red Cross have been helping storm victims. Global Compassion Network, based in Eagle Grove, Iowa, also has dispatched volunteers.
Woodbury Central schools Superintendent Doug Glackin said 210 students in grades 8-12 joined 20 staff members at 13 storm sites near Moville on Wednesday, doing everything from putting up livestock fences to moving keepsakes from attics to retrieving grain bins and appliances from fields of grain in an attempt to get fields harvest-ready.
Kingsley-Pierson Middle School students performed similar tasks on Wednesday around Pierson, Iowa. Students from Lawton-Bronson and Kingsley-Pierson High School will converge on storm-ravaged farms Thursday, with additional assistance from Woodbury Central high schoolers.
Glackin worked with Jeff Thelander, superintendent at Lawton-Bronson, and Scott Bailey, superintendent at Kingsley-Pierson, in organizing the mass sweep. Not only are these efforts helpful for those in need, they're teachable moments.
"It teaches our students how much people can get done when they work together," Glackin said. "It also shows how important it is to take shelter when you hear those sirens. When I called off the (football) game on Friday night, I heard some of the boys grumbling. Now that they've seen the kind of damage these storms can do, I think they have more of an understanding."
Marc Fixsel watched a black wall of rain and debris rolling from the south toward their home on Friday, prompting him to take cover in the basement with Amy, and sons Erik and Tanner. They dove under a mattress beneath the basement stairs seconds after seeing their two-car garage disintegrate.
"I watched through an egress window in the basement and could see the garage go," Tanner said. "And then you could feel the house shift off its foundation."
When the Fixsels emerged minutes later, they viewed four vehicles heavily damaged, if not totaled. The garage was gone and the family camper had been thrown from the north side of the garage to the south side of the house, coming to rest in a field of corn 150 yards from their home.
"We must have been on the edge of it," Marc Fixsel said of the tornado. "The storm came from the south and yet all of our stuff was thrown from the north of our house to the south. Our neighbors who live a half-mile and one-and-a-half miles northeast of us had all of their stuff thrown north."
Fixsel, who predicts a top-end yield of 50 bushels per acre on 180 acres of soybeans, plans to start combining soybeans once his fields are clear. The corn harvest will go much slower as 120 of his 260 corn acres now lay flat, a surface interrupted by things like gutters, wheels, insulation, the camper's dishwasher and hundreds of other items tossed like basketballs.
Oh, there was a basketball, too. A student found it right away Wednesday, sitting in the soybeans.