Community Undaunted: Those at the heart remember storm assault on Taopi

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, April 12, 2023

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Walking through his backyard, Taopi resident Brady Voigt reached down to a rock path and picked up a chunk of shingle about the size of a quarter.

On its own, it doesn’t represent much, but for Voigt and the other residents of the tiny Mower County community, it represents a moment in time that is still vivid in many people’s minds.

A night when Mother Nature lost her mind.

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“We’re still finding glass in parts of our house,” he said beneath pleasant and calm sunny skies Monday. “We’re still finding pieces of siding — horizontal — in trees.”

Taopi and its residents are one year out from an unseasonable outbreak of tornadoes that ripped and tore across northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota, the result of a chaotic weather system few had experienced this early in April.

The April 12 storm that changed the landscape of Taopi came just months after another freak system of storms rocked Mower in December of 2021, causing over $500,000 in damage.

The damage the April storm left in its wake was unimaginable to most, with homes flattened or tossed into other structures.

One of the homes, wryly referred to as the “doll house” had the entire east side of the home stripped away, leaving the structure resembling its moniker. It has since been replaced by a green-sided dwelling with very little to indicate the damage that came before.

In fact, those driving through Taopi, who may not be aware of its recent history, have very little to indicate that anything had ever happened aside from an overabundance of new homes.

“The recovery has gone better than any of us expected,” Mayor Mary Huntley said.

The coming storm

In the days prior, weather forecasts were already predicting the possibility of severe weather. 

Tuesday broke sunny, but the forecasts were becoming more concrete in favor of severe weather later in the evening as temperatures climbed along with thick humidity.

By early evening, the clouds began pushing into the area, ominous, dark and threatening to bring the worst. 

However, for many they were just storms even as the watches and warnings began being issued by the National Weather Service.

“It was a day that was normal except for the weather was really warm,” Voigt said. “You could kind of feel like something was brewing. I had gotten the weather notifications on my phone, but had stopped paying attention to them just thinking it was bad thunderstorms.”

As the storms began developing in earnest, details began snapping more into focus. Hail as large as ping pong sized were being reported as the waves broke upon the area.

Then, just before 11 p.m., things started changing as the system raced across the area.

The morning after, Taopi resident Angie Smith was amazed by how fast everything happened.

At about 10:45 p.m. her home lost power. The tornado, later confirmed to be EF2 by the NWS, came right after.

“It was roaring,” Smith had said. “The moment we ran through to the basement we heard windows shattering. We were down in the basement for maybe a minute.”

However, for many, the storm struck so quickly that there wasn’t even time to make it to the basement.

“It came through quick and lasted only seconds,” Huntley said. “We thought, ‘that rain is getting so loud out there.’ and just like that, it clicked in my brain. That’s not rain. It sounds like a train.”

Huntley said her and her husband were able to get to the stairs to their basement, but never actually got into the basement.

“We stood there for a few seconds and it got quiet,” she said.

Voigt was lying in bed when the storm descended. Voigt and his dogs made it to the center of the home before the windows blew out. His husband was still at work and so wasn’t at home when the tornado cut through the west half of Taopi. 

However, Voigt said that not making it to the basement in this case turned out to be fortunate.

“I do have a basement, but I’m glad I wasn’t in the basement because that part of the house sustained the most damage,” he said. “We would have either been heading to the basement or been in the basement.”

To the west, Mower County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Thomas Brogan was just coming into Adams and was seeing a very different picture — at least for the time being.

“It was only raining a little bit coming into Austin,” Brogan said, but added that things quickly changed as he left Adams heading toward Taopi. “Between Adams and Taopi it was a deluge.”

Brogan would be the first emergency official in Taopi as word came in that some people were trapped, but he still had no indication of what the situation was or that there had even been a tornado.

“The wind was blowing so hard,” Brogan said. “We really had no idea what we were driving into. The visibility was almost zero.”

A fallen tree encountered by Brogan was the first indication that there was “some real energy built up here.” Brogan was followed by Deputy Dave Pike and the two quickly split up to survey the town.

All told, the tornado was only on the ground for a few minutes, from 10:46 p.m. to 10:52 p.m. It touched down southwest of Taopi and swung northeast through the community, hitting first a farm on the edge of the community before knifing through Taopi itself.

Packing 130 mph winds, the tornado traveled four miles with a maximum width of 475 yards. When it was all said and done, it would end up being one of nine confirmed tornadoes to strike the region and the only storm to result in injuries.

Before: Debris is scattered about a home the day after it was struck by the April 12 tornado.
Today: The home was one of the few that was not rebuilt.


The rain was coming in curtains in the direct aftermath of the storm, when Brogan rolled into town.

In dash cam video from Brogan’s squad later shown to the Mower County Board of Commissioners, the immediate impact of the storm was only visible through flashes of lightning and headlights. However, Brogan soon pulled up at a home in Taopi, which reflected what had happened.

At the same time Gary Kasel had pulled up to the same house and in minutes, along with Brogan, they were able to rescue his brother Thomas Kasel and Jewel Andree from the ruined home.

The home had been blown off its foundation and Brogan said he could hear Thomas yelling for help from the basement. He was discovered with a brick wall toppled over on him. Likewise, Andree was also trapped.

Gary Kasel jumped in and removed the bricks to free Thomas and together with Brogan went on to free Andree.

Both were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, the only injuries sustained during the tornado. However, according to Brogan, Andree’s injuries were fairly severe and required several surgeries in weeks following the tornado.

From there, work went toward organizing a full response.

“After we cleared Thomas and Jewel out there, then we went to town and met with the fire department and ambulance to formulate a plan … to find and locate people. That’s when the realization set in as to how serious and intense it was.”

The idea that people largely avoided serious injury or even death with such a fast-moving storm still plays on Taopi residents to this day.

“Two things stand out to me the most,” Voigt said. “The first is just the absolute power of what the storm was. I think the whole thing lasted for maybe a minute and a half, but it took us a year and will probably take us to the end of this summer and fall to get our yards back.”

“The second thing was just that nobody died and we only had two serious injuries. It could have been much worse,” he added.

Huntley’s home was relatively undamaged by the storm and so she was immediately able to start making contact with citizens.

What awaited her was beyond reality.

“It was shocking. It was absolutely shocking,” she said. “There are no words to describe it but utter devastation.”

“There aren’t words to tell you how bad it looks,” she continued. “You had to see it for yourself. My first thought was to comfort the people.”

The next day was cloudy with an iron cold wind pressing against the devastation, an abrupt 180 degree turn from the muggy day prior.

Voigt’s house was a complete loss, one of several in the community. The windows on the south and west side had been blown out and a wall was destroyed.

Two by fours and other debris, including that from the old bar that had closed in the 80s, the Rusty Rail, had damaged the roof and the rains and caused water damage to the interior and walls.

Photo taken of Taopi residents this past summer. They went from town to town to participate in parades in an show of thanking communities for their help after the tornado. Photo provided

Not only did they lose the house, but they had also lost  a barn on the north edge of town that had been built just a year earlier. Their horses were also missing, but located later that night, shaken up in a field near where the barn had once stood.

While the devastation caused by the tornado was a blow to the community and its homeowners, it didn’t take long for clean-up to begin the following day. By mid morning the sound of chainsaws reverberated through the gloom and heavy machinery was already making its way into town. Law enforcement and area fire departments were also in town to help secure Taopi as Mower County Emergency Management personal began to organize the clean-up and response effort.

“I’m seeing a small town, huge heart,” said Emergency Management Director Amy Lammey in the days following. “Our first responders, our fire departments, cities and other agencies are coming to me and asking, ‘what can I do?’”

In those days and weeks after the tornado, the town experienced a swift clean-up and Voigt said that it comes down to one thing.

Neighbors helping neighbors.

“I think it says a lot about small town values,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we moved here. The surrounding communities and our neighbors. My husband and I, we had over 80 people volunteer to help us alone. We counted.”

It was a community united, not just by a shared tragedy, but a shared desire to rebuild. That started each night with meetings at Huntley’s home.

It was at these meetings that citizens were briefed on the day’s work as well as what would be happening in the following days.

But it was also an opportunity for fellowship and togetherness.

“For those weeks it was incredibly important,” Huntley said. “It brought them together, no matter how they were hurt. It brought that sense of community. I’m not alone. It reminded everybody we’re all in this together. They know they’ve been surrounded by people who would help.”

One year later

Voigt’s red-sided home with white trimmed windows is one of several new homes already built to replace those structures lost.

For the most part, everybody is moved into their new homes, with Voigt pointing out another where the owner is hoping to move into the structure in the next month to month and a half.

Voigt’s family were already moved into their new home the weekend before Christmas this past December.

“A lot of our neighbors made that happen,” Voigt said. “Between the local contractors and our neighbors, that’s what made it possible.”

Still, the tornado of April 12, 2022 lingers in the back of people’s minds and will continue for some time.

Earlier in April, Mower County had storms go through the area. Routine when compared to what happened last year, but enough of a reminder to turn eyes to the skies.

“Definitely we think about it,” Huntley said. “I’m certain I’m not the only one. That thunder and cold and rain … I can’t help but think about last year because that’s how it felt.”

“Usually we lose a little bit of sleep,” Voigt said. “We’re watching our phones for the weather updates. We’re probably still a little hyper vigilant.”

At the same time, there is also that desire to continue moving forward into the future. 

On Wednesday night, the community is gathering in Adams to have one more community meal. Another chance to come together and remember a night that altered the landscape of Taopi if not the will of its people.

Granted, there are some properties where houses once stood that are still vacant. Homes that for one reason or another couldn’t be rebuilt.

It’s a stark reminder of the storm’s lasting impact, something Brogan sees driving through the community on patrol.

“Obviously so much has changed,” he said. “You notice a lot of the houses missing on the west side of town. But you also realize all the houses rebuilt are fixed up and how nice they look. It’s nice to see they were able to rebuild and stay in town.”

The empty lots are currently for sale and waiting for somebody to buy them. Waiting to be a home.

The community is also hoping to build a community center. Voigt, who is on the city council, said there has been discussion of building a center on a parcel of land just south of his own home. 

It would be a place for families and community gatherings and has been embraced by most of the town. However, what the council and Huntley have heard about the creation of the center is indicative of the town’s spirit.

“I think we need to build that a little bigger,” Voigt echoed.

Night of Storms

On the night of April 12, 2023, several storms rocked northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota:


Time: 10:46 to 10:52 p.m.

EF Rating: EF2

Estimated Peak Winds: 130 mph

Path length: 4 miles

Max width: 475 yards

Injuries/deaths: 2/0

Floyd/Mitchell Counties, Iowa

Time: 10:41 to 10:48 p.m.

EF Rating: EF0

Estimated Peak Winds: 80 mph

Path length: 8.2 miles

Max width: 50 yards

Injuries/deaths: 0/0

Brownville, Iowa

Time: 10:57 to 11 p.m.

EF Rating: EF1

Estimated Peak Winds: 110 mph

Path length: 2.8 miles

Max width: 250 yards

Injuries/deaths: 0/0

Riceville, Iowa area

Time: 10:57 to 11:09 p.m.

EF Rating: EF1

Estimated Peak Winds: 100 mph

Path length: 9.2 miles

Max width: 325 yards

Injuries/deaths: 0/0

Spring Valley

Time: 11:08 to 11:11 p.m.

EF Rating: EF1

Estimated Peak Winds: 100 mph

Path length: 2.3 miles

Max width: 180 yards

Injuries/deaths: 0/0

Saratoga, Iowa area

Time: 11:10 to 11:16 p.m.

EF Rating: EF0

Estimated Peak Winds: 75 mph

Path length: 4.7 miles

Max width: 125 yards

Injuries/deaths: 0/0

Ridgeway, Iowa

Time: 11:36 p.m.

EF Rating: EF0

Estimated Peak Winds: 80 mph

Path length: .6 miles

Max width: 125 yards

Injuries/deaths: 0/0

Shelton Hill, Minnesota

Time: 11:40 to 11:44 p.m.

EF Rating: EF0

Estimated Peak Winds: 70 mph

Path length: 3.3 miles

Max width: 70 yards

Injuries/deaths: 0/0

Rural Lewiston

Time: 11:41 to 11:42 p.m.

EF Rating: EF0

Estimated Peak Winds: 70 mph

Path length: 1.8 miles

Max width: 20 yards

Injuries/deaths: 0/0

Information courtesy of the 

National Weather Service