Christchurch businessmen caught in Iowa’s tornado whirlwind

INCOMING: Several tornadoes like this appeared in Iowa on July 19.

“Holy s**t! Far out, I didn’t expect that.”

That was the reaction of Joe Berryman when he and fellow Christchurch businessman Chris Smith emerged from a concrete shelter in Iowa in the United States and saw the destructive trail of a tornado.

They were in Pella, central Iowa, on July 19 when a devastating tornado ripped through the town around 4pm.

SURVIVORS: Christchurch businessmen Joe Berryman, Chris Smith and Darryl Harris were on a work trip when alarms sounded and they were herded into tornado shelters in Iowa.

Mr Berryman said a few more “choice words” were also used once they left the shelter and saw more damage.

“It was quite a sight. There was big American pick-up trucks blown into a big pile, building mess for hundreds of metres . . . it had ripped through a factory about 100m from where we just were . . . the pavilion had it’s massive doors blown off,” he said.

Mr Smith said he saw cars that had been “thrown around like toys.”

“Inside the shelter we heard some crashes, then the power went out and we thought: ‘Well that’s not good.’ It’s quite warm over there and all the air-con had gone and it started to get quite hot . . . there was quite devastating damage,” he said.

Another Christchurch man, Darryl Harris, who was on the business trip was holed up in another shelter nearby.

“It sucked the door open to the shelter. The double doors just got smashed around. We all shot into another part of the room, people were screaming,” said Mr Harris.

The men, along with more than 400 other customers, were on a trip touring manufacturer Vermeer Company’s factory, to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

Mr Harris is a manager at Smiths Hire and Mr Berryman co-founded Arbor-Tek Ltd. Both companies purchase and use Vermeer products from AB Equipment Ltd, where Mr Smith works.

They had been sitting in a marketing seminar, on the fourth day of the tour, when alarms sounded and they were evacuated.

“I thought ‘oh well, this is quite exciting’,” said Mr Berryman, “Of course we just wanted to go outside and photograph it.”

They spent half an hour trying to get sight of the tornado before being herded into one of several shelters, along with 30 others.

CLEAN-UP: A group of people work to clear rubble surrounding a car in Marshalltown, Iowa.

“Then all of a sudden the power went out, there were no lights, within 10 minutes this guy opens the door and says everyone be careful, there is a lot of injuries, a lot of carnage,” said Mr Berryman.

The event lasted less than five minutes, a “massive black cloud” was seen leaving.

It total, 27 separate tornadoes hit three different cities in Iowa, injuring 17 people.

Mr Berryman said he saw some people with blood on them, suffering from superficial injuries.

Iowa sits in a “less severe” part of the infamous Tornado Valley, however, some locals of 15-20 years told the men they had never experienced one.

The Vermeer plant with more than 2700 employees has seven factories, three of which were damaged, one severely.

The men compared their experiences to the Christchurch earthquakes.

“The earthquakes had more of an impact on me and the other guys, for damage, disruption and scariness. This was like, ‘wow this is quite exciting were in a tornado, you know’ . . . we had advanced warning,” said Mr Berryman.