News reports on May 25, 2008, predicted the mile-wide tornado that had wiped out half of Parkersburg, Iowa, would head north. But as Wes Godfrey videotaped the tornado from his home to the east in New Hartford, Iowa, the rotating funnel slowly started to fill up his camcorder’s screen.
Brother Godfrey rushed his 8-months-pregnant wife, Erin, and two children into their tornado shelter and huddled his family together to pray. As Brother Godfrey asked Heavenly Father to spare their lives and the lives of their neighbors, the Spirit touched his heart, and he immediately knew two things: (1) they would be OK, and (2) they were going to get hit.
After the prayer, an eerie silence fell. Moments later, rain and wind exploded against the steel door of the shelter. The commotion lasted only a few seconds before silence returned.
When the family decided it was safe to come out, their home was gone.
“I was devastated,” Sister Godfrey said. “I thought our house would still be there, but at the same time I was glad that we were alive. I realized how fragile life is.”
Winds of the tornado, rated as a low-end EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale,1 peaked at 205 miles per hour (330 kilometers per hour), completely destroying more than 240 homes and businesses and killing six people in Parkersburg. In New Hartford, the tornado destroyed an additional 30 homes and killed two people within a two-block radius of the Godfreys’ home.
After the tornado, neighbors stood in bewilderment, crying. Children ran around aimlessly, searching for lost pets. People drove through the area, asking if everyone was okay.
After calming his shoeless family, Brother Godfrey used his wife’s cell phone to call their home teacher, Jason Meyers, who lived 30 minutes away in Cedar Falls. Without hesitation, Brother Meyers said he was on his way. He and two other members journeyed along country roads, past open fields, and around downed power lines to get to New Hartford. When they arrived, Brother Meyers jumped out of the vehicle to hug Brother Godfrey and his family.
“It was good, because we didn’t have any family out there. But our ward family was there for us,” Brother Godfrey said while choking back some tears.
They whisked the Godfreys out of the disaster area to stay at the Relief Society president’s house, where members brought food and clothing.
The next morning the Godfreys wanted to try to find some valuables, even though pieces of their home were spread over 3 miles or more—and pictures of the Godfrey children were later found 100 miles away. Before they started searching, Brother Godfrey offered a prayer that they would be able to find some specific items, namely his and his wife’s wedding rings, their wallets, scriptures, a journal, and a diabetic blood tester.
After 30 minutes of searching, a counselor in the stake presidency found the Godreys’ rings under some insulation. Fifteen minutes later their wallets turned up, fully intact with licenses and credit cards inside. Then the blood tester, the journal, and the scriptures were found.
“All that stuff is replaceable, but I think the reason we found them was to build everyone’s testimony of prayer,” Brother Godfrey said.
The home of another member family, Laverne and Melva Gnade of Parkersburg, was also destroyed by the tornado. However, the one part of their house left standing contained their extensive family history and genealogical work. Home teachers also came to the aid of the Gnade family and helped take care of their needs.
Following the tornado, members of the Cedar Falls Ward, Cedar Rapids Iowa Stake, helped with various clean-up efforts. They helped turn an elementary school in nearby Aplington into the Parkersburg Distribution Center. At the center, tornado victims could pick up donated clothing, food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and various other items, including microwaves and some appliances. Church members volunteered at the center three nights a week through August.
“We were so taken care of there,” Sister Godfrey said. “Heavenly Father took care of us [then], and He still is, and that’s what’s so amazing.”