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Tornado Sets Stage For Heroes From South Dakota's Football Program
USD football program linked to Iowa town.
University of South Dakota football player Evan Capper was helping grill food behind a restaurant for a friend’s graduation party when it started raining last Sunday in Parkersburg, Iowa.
Capper, along with his father and several others, moved the grill inside a friend’s nearby car wash to escape the rain. A little later, they saw the skies darken, heard the town siren, and closed the doors. The siren blared again, and a fire truck roared past.
Capper looked out the door and saw a large black cloud heading toward them. The group, 14 in all, huddled together in the brick encased car wash and waited.
For what, they weren’t sure.
“I’d heard about people who had been through tornadoes, but I didn’t realize how bad it was going to be,” Capper said. “I saw one of the brick walls of the car wash ripped right out of the ground. After that I closed my eyes, covered my head and prayed to God.”
Two of the walls that didn’t fly away collapsed on Capper and the others, remaining partially intact. Capper peeked through a small hole in the rubble and saw large chunks of debris flying through the sky.
“As soon as it got past us, I tried to get loose,” said the 6-foot-1, 242-pound nose guard, who will be a redshirt freshman at USD in the fall.
“My shoe was caught on something, so I kicked it off and got out. Then we pushed the wall back and started looking for people.”
Capper and his father helped lift the brick wall, despite the fact that both would spend time in the hospital with their injuries. Capper’s father remained hospitalized for a few days, bruised and battered by falling bricks. Several others in the group at the car wash were hospitalized. but none were seriously hurt.
Most of the northeast Iowa town of Parkersburg, population 1,900, could not say the same. The twister contained winds of more than 200 miles an hour, registering as an E5, the top of the tornado scale.
Five people died, and there were two additional fatalities in nearby New Hartford. There were 260 houses leveled in Parkersburg, while 400 homes - roughly half the dwellings in town - were seriously damaged.
“There is one part of town a little farther east from where we were where there’s nothing left,” Capper said earlier this week, taking a break from cleaning up what was left of his grandmother’s house. “It was the new part of town. Not one house is standing. It’s all gone.”
Parkersburg was already distinctively on the map before the tornado hit, but for more uplifting reasons. Jared DeVries, Aaron Kampmann, Brad Meester and Casey Wiegmann are all Aplington-Parkersburg graduates on current NFL rosters - this from a school that has about 250 kids grades 9-12.
In addition to Capper, the link between this town and the USD football program includes former assistant coach Brett Kramer, as well as Nick Walters, an all-conference guard who graduated this spring.
Parkersburg native Caleb Wiegmann, a student assistant for the Coyotes and Casey Wiegmann’s cousin, took a frantic call Sunday night from his mother in Parkersburg.
Wiegmann was in Vermillion and couldn’t get through to his family even by cell phone until hours after the storm hit.
“She finally called,” Wiegmann said. “It was pretty chaotic. The first thing she said was that the town was gone.”
Wiegmann’s mother had reason to be unsettled. Just as she’d sent Caleb’s younger brother and sister toward the basement, she went down there herself, but not before seeing the tornado lift the roof off her home.
“The roof came back down on top of the house,” Wiegmann said. “But obviously it didn’t look the same.”
Wiegmann drove to Parkersburg on Wednesday with a USD van wedged with 100 cases of bottled water, boxes of non-perishable food and clothes donated by the Coyote football program.
He’d seen some of the photos of the carnage, but they didn’t prepare him for what he saw with his own eyes.
“You can’t understand it until you see it up close,” he said. “You stand there and see the house you grew up in all ripped to shreds. You tear up. I was just speechless.”
Wiegmann drove by the car wash where Capper and his father weathered the tornado and was shocked again.
“There’s no way anyone ever should have survived that,” he said. “It’s was a brick building, and there’s nothing there. Just shambles. There’s no way they should have been able to lift a brick wall, either. Around here, we think they had God’s help.”
The Wiegmann family got good news on Wednesday, when an insurance agent ruled their home was a total loss and that the agency would replace it. Though the Wiegmanns, like many others in town, had pledged to rebuild regardless, getting the money to do it makes it a little easier.
“I think the mind-set of the town is that this is a place where people want to stay,” Wiegmann said. “They want to rebuild so future families can grow up here like we did. And they want to get it rebuilt as soon as possible, so they can go on with their everyday lives.”
Tornado sets stage for heroes
By Mick Garry, The Argus-Leader