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Iowa City still recovering from tornadoes
Scott McWane stands in front of his Dairy Queen store on Riverside Drive in Iowa City that was taatally destroyed one year ago and now rebuilt.

IOWA CITY — On the west shore of the Iowa River, tornadic winds toppled cinder block walls, lifted roof tops into the water and leveled buildings that stood 50 years or more.

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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

View the tornado damage then and now in this photo gallery.

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One of the tornadoes that ripped through the city on April 13, 2006, left two blocks of South Riverside Drive in ruin. But a year later, that area has almost fully recovered.

Linder Tire Services, 632 S. Riverside Drive, had the roof from one of its buildings land in the river. The business spent more than $500,000 replacing four roof tops, several windows and one warehouse, chief operating officer John Linder said.

“We’re almost back to 100 percent,” Linder said. “One roof is still leaking, and we have to replace some landscaping.”

Next door, all that remains of Linder’s neighboring business at the corner of Riverside Drive and West Benton Street is a slab of concrete. Noah Kemp, owner of Professional Mufflers, bought out his competitor a few blocks north at 606 S. Riverside Drive and moved his business there.

“It still probably wouldn’t be rebuilt” if it wasn’t for the the sale, Kemp said, adding his new building suffered some damage, but it was easy to repair.

Kemp hopes to build a rental property for commercial business at his former location.

Just north of Kemp’s new building on the other side of a railroad viaduct, Scott McWane has rebuilt his Dairy Queen. The winds carried most of the old store away.

“We went pretty quick rebuilding,” McWane said, beaming with pride in the accomplishment.

The new store was constructed to look just like the old one, which had been operating since the early 1960s. He was open in the new building by early October.

“It was hard finding a contractor because they were so tied up right after the storm,” he said.

While some businesses are fully operational again, others are still waiting to rebuild.

John Danneman, owner of the Happy Joe’s franchise in Iowa City, has been operating a carryout and delivery service at a new location at 102 2nd Ave. in Coralville. He still hopes to rebuild at the old location, 225 S. Gilbert St. in downtown Iowa City, so there will be two stores in the area.

“It’s tougher to construct a building today than it’s ever been,” he said. “If it goes as planned, we’ll start (construction) in August and be up in one year.”

Danneman said the City Council wants the structure to be at least two stories and cover the entire lot.

The University of Iowa lost 65 trees, costing about $287,000, but suffered heavy damage to only one building, which the school still has not replaced.

Rod Lehnertz, director of campus and facilities planning, said the motorpool building on South Madison Street was taken down for safety reasons and fleet services has been operating out of a temporary facility.

“Our objective is to get them a permanent home,” he said, adding he’s not sure when that will happen since the university is waiting to finish other construction nearby.

In other parts of the city, the damage is still noticeable.

A few blocks east, up the hill from the motorpool and next to the Johnson County Courthouse, there is a deep hole where one crushed building once stood. Across the street, a building that lost its roof and several second-floor walls has been replaced by a concrete slab.

Two blocks east at 228 E. Court St., the winds ripped a massive hole in the front of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church that couldn’t be repaired. A chain-link fence now guards the muddy lot where the church once stood.

The back wall of the Capitol House Apartments next door has been resurfaced and repainted, covering several holes caused by chunks of swirling debris that were imbedded in the concrete surface.

Church officials just recently purchased 14 acres of land on Lower West Branch Road with plans to construct a new building.

The Rev. Rudy Juarez and his staff have been operating out of a temporary location across the street since last April. He said they’re eager to get out of their cramped quarters and into the new building. But he had no timetable for when construction might start.

He said they decided not to rebuild in town in an effort to reach more parishioners outside the city.

“We already have four established parishes (downtown) within walking distance of each other,” he said. “Parking has been one of the major concerns of Iowa City Catholics because every parish with exception of one has problems.”

Juarez said a developer from Wisconsin has purchased a portion of the old church lot, but he didn’t say what it was going to be used for.

A few blocks east of the church, there are sparkling new rooftops and siding on several old homes along Iowa Avenue, but many others are still being repaired. This week, contractors were working at five homes in the area, some of which still had siding missing.

A few houses, including the Alpha Chi Omega sorority house a block south of the avenue on South Governor Street, have been torn down. The sorority plans to rebuild.

Those who lost property to the storm say they’re glad no one was hurt and will never forget that night or the damage the day after.

Danneman was at the Happy Joe’s in Anamosa, Iowa, when the tornado hit. As the storms rolled in, he remarked that his Iowa City building was the safest place to be. He didn’t realize that falling debris from neighboring buildings would destroy his roof and demolish the restaurant.

“There was no hole in the roof, it was crushed,” he recalled. “It looked like King Kong stepped on the building. There was no repairing it. I would never want to go through it again.”

Although several of its students suffered damages, the university was relatively unscathed.

“The university was lucky on such a day,” Lehnertz said. “The damage could have been much worse.”

Linder and Kemp both recalled the help they received from employees and customers who helped volunteer their time and equipment to clean up after the storm.

“It’s definitely not something we would want to go through again, and you have a lot of empathy for people in similar situations having gone through it yourself,” Linder said.

While the staff at St. Patrick’s responded quickly to storm warnings, it was more a sixth sense that guided them before the tornado hit, Juarez said. He’s taken a lesson from the storm.

“You get used to sirens, and you take them for granted,” he said. “For some reason, this time we responded right away. I will never again have such a laid-back attitude toward storms or emergency warnings.”

Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or dlemmon@qctimes.com.

More online

Quad-City Times photographer Larry Fisher returned to Iowa City on April 10, 2007, to document areas he photographed after the April 13, 2006, tornado that ripped through the town.

To see his gallery, go to www.qctimes.com/multimedia.

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