'We want this town to succeed': Kim Reynolds tours tornado-hit towns of Minden, Greenfield

MINDEN — Gov. Kim Reynolds watched Tuesday as trucks trundled through town carrying loads of debris as crews worked to clear away buildings irreparably damaged by the tornado that tore through the community in April.

The visit to Minden was part of a tour of four western Iowa communities damaged by storms in a spring marked by an unusually high number of tornadoes. In each town, Reynolds heard from local officials who shared concerns about the assistance they need from the state and federal government as they rebuild.

More: Years-long recovery ahead for Minden: 'Hard to believe' what tornado destroyed, what's intact

"We want this town to succeed. We want people to stay. We want to get them up and going," she said in Minden. "And that means business, that means housing, that means the water treatment plant and just making sure that we’re making all of the available resources available to them so they can make decisions."

Reynolds visited Harlan on Tuesday morning, ahead of her stop in Minden. Later in the day, the governor was set to visit Corning and Greenfield, where an EF4 tornado on May 21 killed five people. In Greenfield alone, the tornado injured 35 people and damaged or destroyed about 150 homes.

Gov. Reynolds visits Minden after EF3 tornado

Remaining debris from tornado damage can be seen from businesses in downtown Minden on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.
Remaining debris from tornado damage can be seen from businesses in downtown Minden on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

Minden, a small town in Pottawattamie County, was hit by an EF3 tornado that killed one person and injured three others during a series of storms that tore through Iowa on April 26. Approximately 40% of homes in the 600-person town were damaged, and 48 homes were destroyed.

Mayor Kevin Zimmerman said homeowners and businesses are waiting on insurance companies to tell them what they'll cover, but the process has been slower than he'd like. He said the companies are "kind of dicking them around a little bit."

"It’s been a month and a half," Zimmerman said. "If the building is on the ground, it’s a total loss, I would think. But I guess they need a structural engineer to tell them that. So it makes no sense to me. But they need to just get off the fence and give them some answers so they can go to the next step."

The mayor has been fighting his own battle with his insurance company at a rental house he owns in town.

"The house got lifted and set back down on the foundation. The foundation’s cracked all the way around," the frustrated mayor said. "They’re not paying me a dime for the foundation, and they’re saying the house can be fixed."

More: Digging into Iowa's historic 2024 tornado season: How rare was Greenfield's EF-4 tornado?

Reynolds said she's hearing similar concerns about insurance in all the towns she's visited, including Greenfield.

"We need to understand what insurance is going to cover and then what they’re not going to cover and then that kicks in some of the other options," she said.

State and federal disaster declarations have been issued for a swath of counties including those surrounding Minden and Greenfield, giving residents access to a range of financial assistance and other resources.

One of Minden's biggest needs is a new water treatment plant to replace the one the tornado destroyed. The town is paying $350,000 for temporary water service, and it's working to get approval to build a new plant down the road so the temporary plant can keep operating in the meantime.

Reynolds called the water treatment plant "a top priority" and said the state recently submitted some information to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to review.

"We'll hopefully get some good news on that," she said.

Zimmerman told reporters Tuesday there are about 11 homes and nine businesses that still need to be torn down and cleared.

These are some of the homes damaged in an April tornado in Minden as recovery efforts continue on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.
These are some of the homes damaged in an April tornado in Minden as recovery efforts continue on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

Many of the town's residents want to rebuild, the mayor said, especially older residents. About a dozen don't know if they'll be able to afford to rebuild without financial help.

Zimmerman said assistance from Pottawattamie County, the state and other local communities has been "awesome."

"The state’s been here," he said. "I’ve been able to call Kim and ask her something and ask her something and within a couple hours that question was answered."

Gov. Kim Reynolds talks with local officials during a visit to Minden, IA, to see recovery efforts after a tornado hit the small town in April.
Gov. Kim Reynolds talks with local officials during a visit to Minden, IA, to see recovery efforts after a tornado hit the small town in April.

Minden has always been an attractive community to live in for people in the surrounding area, Zimmerman said. The city is planning to build a new housing development to the north of town, but that will likely be delayed after the storm.

The community has a grocery store, a doctor's office and a drugstore, although some were damaged or destroyed by the tornado. He's hoping most of those businesses will come back.

"That’s why people wanted to live here," he said. "So we’ve just got to work hard at it."

More: 'Somehow I'm here': Neighbors say four people died in powerful Greenfield tornado

Reynolds tours Greenfield, sees recovery three weeks after tornado

Gov. Reynolds' last stop on a day of visiting communities struck by tornadoes in recent weeks was in Greenfield.

Three weeks after being hit by an EF4 tornado, recovery is well underway.

"I am just blown away by the amount of progress they've made," Reynolds said. "To come back now and just see the progress... it's incredible."

According to Reynolds and Iowa Emergency Management, ongoing efforts include continuing to clean up debris and figuring out short- and long-term housing solutions for those who lost their homes in the storm.

"There's still a lot of work to do," Reynolds said. "Recovery is the hard part. We're so focused on cleaning and getting the debris out of the way and getting ready to move on to the next phase."

According to Jeremy Cooper of Adair County Emergency Management, about 30 homes still need to be demolished and even more require repairs.

"I definitely didn't anticipate seeing it as cleaned up as it is today," Cooper said. "It's already been three weeks, and... I mean... it's unimaginable."

Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that the town will still serve as the day 3 meeting town for RAGBRAI on July 23.

"It's exciting that RAGBRAI is going to go ahead and come through, and they want to help support the community," Reynolds said.

Before RAGBRAI comes through town, there is still a lot of cleanup to do, but it won't stop there.

"We want those who are impacted to know we're not walking away," Reynolds said. "We're going to work to be innovative and thoughtful in how we can meet the needs and continue to help."

"We're not just going to recover," she continued. "We're going to figure out how we can make this community even more sustainable, more vibrant, a place where people want to stay and move and really help them recover in an even better way."

Kyle Werner is a reporter for the Register. Reach him at kwerner@dmreg.com.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at sgrubermil@registermedia.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Kim Reynolds surveys tornado damage in Greenfield, Minden, Iowa