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Tornado watch: Early warnings may have saved Iowa town

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., issued a stern warning about oncoming storms more than 24 hours in advance. Residents credited early warnings with saving lives. 

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Storm chaser photographer Brad Mack shoots a tornado as it makes its way over the freeway near Moundridge, Kansas, Saturday. A spate of tornadoes tore through parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa, causing widespread damage.

Gene Blevins/Reuters

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Leland Achenbach wandered the streets of his tornado-ravaged southwestern Iowa town Sunday morning, staring at the collapsed homes and the tree in his swimming pool. He wondered how it was possible no one had been killed or even seriously hurt.

The lifelong resident of Thurman was throwing a birthday party Saturday for his 19-year-old daughter when the first storm alert flashed onto his brother's cellphone. Then came the sirens. Achenbach and his family hustled into a cellar and pulled the door shut. Moments later, he felt the air pressure plummet.

"My head was about to explode," Achenbach, 52, said as he surveyed the damage. "A minute later – boom. My kids were crying. You could feel the house and ground shaking."

Minutes later, nearly every building in the 250-person town about 125 miles southwest of Des Moines was damaged. Trees were uprooted, roofs peeled away and windows blown into living rooms.

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The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., which specializes in tornado forecasting, took the unusual step of issuing a stern warning about the oncoming storms more than 24 hours in advance. Residents in Thurman credited forecasters' early warnings with possibly saving lives. Miraculously, the only injuries reported in town were some cuts and bruises.

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