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Algona Tornado of 1979: Iowa Time Machine June 29, 1979

Iowa Time Machine ⏰: On June 28, 1979, an F3 tornado hit northwest of Algona, Iowa, the county seat of Kossuth County, around 7:00 p.m. Part of a day in which 27 tornadoes touched down across the Midwest, a separate F4 tornado hit roughly 50 miles to the southwest in Manson. Five people (two in Algona, three in Manson) lost their lives in the storm.

Kossuth County Civil Defense Director Bob Engstrom gave a presentation on tornadoes at the North Park Shelter House in Algona just before the storm hit. Around 2:00 p.m., the strong storm pushed in from the northwest and first dropped a tornado near Fargo, North Dakota, providing a stunning visual aid to cap off Engstrom’s presentation.

Following moments of sheer terror for the residents of Kossuth County, the storm left at least 104 homes and 20 businesses, including a shopping center, destroyed in its wake. Water sucked by the tornado from the East Fork of the Des Moines River added to the destructive force of the storm. Forced to take shelter in a crawl space under the C&S cafe after snapping a few shots, Kossuth County Advance photographer John Cullen described what he saw after the storm passed: “When we emerged from the cafe, we were greeted by cackling electrical wires overhead and a scene across the highway that looked like Hiroshima.”

Within the hour, at around 7:20 p.m., an F4 tornado touched down in Pocahontas County near Palmer. Staying on the ground for nearly an hour and thirty miles, the funnel approached Manson around 7:45 p.m. The storm smashed into the town, demolishing every home and business as it streaked through the Calhoun County city. “The twister cut a swath of total destruction 2-3 blocks wide, from northwest to southeast, through the heart of the town of 2000 people,” wrote John L. Stanford in 1982.

As the storm progressed, other funnels developed, including one near DeSoto to the west of Des Moines. However, the greatest damage has already occurred in Algona and Manson. The families of the five victims killed in the storm, as well as the communities around them, reeled in the aftermath of the tragic tornadoes of June 28, 1979. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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