As the media have well documented, the tornado that hit Mapleton, Iowa, last Saturday night wreaked dramatic devastation on the town. When I visited my home town this week, I was struck by the thought that all tornado damage looks the same—there’s that hellish mix of indecipherable debris, twisted trees, and homes torn asunder. Every picture seems to look like the next.
Then something comes along that hits you right between the eyes. My brother-in-law Sheldon Jacobson found an undamaged photo of a family from the other side of town who had lost their home. It was stuck in a little package of unbroken Christmas ornaments. Just a strange thing to see.
My sister Peggy told me that after the storm subsided, people wandered around the streets in disbelief, trying to process the incredible destruction of their homes, parks, stores, and school. You just can’t believe your eyes, she said.
In the aftermath, a couple days later, the things you can’t see start to take hold. For example, from a distance my former church, St. Matthew's Lutheran, looks largely unscathed, except for the missing steeple and bell tower. (Dad tells me they still haven’t found the cross.) Inside, though, there are hidden signs of deeper damage. A structural engineer told church members that it looks as if the tornado tried to pull the roof off. There could be major damage to the rafters, and it may not be safe to worship there this Easter.
An insurance executive in Des Moines told me that based on the claims he’s seen from Mapleton this the most destructive tornado his company has ever dealt with in Iowa. But, he said, it’s not only the damage you can see that will cause a building to be totaled. If the siding is pitted, the shingles turned up, and the structure twisted a bit, you could have a complete loss—without the look of that trademark tornado damage.
On Monday, as townspeople and volunteers began the big job of cleaning up Mapleton, you could see a quiet resolve on people's faces. The mix of old and young, hauling brush and debris, driving heavy machinery and wielding chainsaws, all gave the impression of a determined industry.
But, now I wonder about the things you can’t see. What are people really thinking about the future of Mapleton? Who can afford to rebuild really? Word on the street is that a couple of key businesses may be imperiled. Farmers will wonder about the availability of local grain storage this fall.
It’s the things you can’t see here, I think, that are the most worrisome right now. But, maybe that’s the way the world always works. You just have to believe the people of Mapleton will find their way home again.