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'Our house was gone' | Iowa family recalls deadly tornado 1 year later

One year after an EF-4 tornado ripped apart her house, Winterset High School senior Addie Burkett reflects on rebuilding and moving forward.

WINTERSET, Iowa — To a casual passerby driving down Carver Road in Winterset, Iowa, there's nothing out of the ordinary. The gravel road lays clear of any debris, fallen trees or pieces of homes. But on either side of the path, scars from one of Iowa's deadliest tornadoes remain. 

On March 5, 2022, an EF-4 tornado ripped through central Iowa. The twister traveled for roughly 70 miles, whipping up winds of 170 mph. By the end of the storm, six people were dead and a line of devastation could be clearly traced through Madison County. 

One of the hardest hit areas was on Carver Road. Just outside of Winterset, the area is surrounded by hills and cornfields, dotted with occasional farms and houses. 

But in the aftermath of the storm, that idyllic picture was shattered. 

"It feels like it was yesterday," remembered Addie Burkett. The Winterset High School student was a junior in high school when the storm hit. Now a senior, she met up with News 8 on the one-year anniversary of the tornado. 

"I heard this rumbling like thunder and I was like 'oh, it's gonna storm,'" Burkett recalled. "So I look out my window and see my dad running towards our house."

On the horizon, the massive funnel was lurching directly toward her house. Burkett quickly joined her parents, sister and dog in a lower level of the house. But before the tornado could make contact, she remembers running back up to her room for a few belongings. 

"As I was leaving I could see the corner of my room start to like, break open. And then my little sister said that she could feel her room shake," Burkett remembered. 

Fortunately, all five occupants safely weathered the storm in a small hallway on the structure's ground floor. A third daughter was away at camp and learned of the destruction later. 

Just a few minutes after it began, the Burketts emerged from their hiding place and stepped into a world of devastation. 

"I have a Snapchat saved on my phone and it's me panning my property," Burkett said. "And it's just like... our house is gone." 

The home's roof and second level had been ripped off; household belongings and personal items were strewn about the adjacent trees; and a thick layer of dust, broken glass and smashed drywall blanketed the structure's remains. 

News 8 made it to Winterset less than 12 hours after the storm hit. That was where we met the Burketts for the first time, telling the story of their experience and spreading the word about their GoFundMe

You can check out that full story here.

"I kind of thought it was ironic because I'm like, how did our mailbox stand and was perfectly fine, but our house wasn't. And how were things sitting on my dresser that were right next to a wall that was non-existent," Burkett said. "It just didn't make any sense." 

She remembers the immediate aftermath as a blur of volunteers and frantic cleaning. Burkett was forced to hop from house to house, crashing with her friends wherever she could and borrowing clothes from whoever was a similar size, while the family worked on setting up temporary housing. 

"I literally have one B on my transcript. I have all A's except for one B," Burkett said. She got the grade in a math class that spring and remembers walking back into school after the tornado hit. "I literally just walked in, sat down, and my teacher asked if I was ready for the test that day. She's like 'here's your test' and I'm like 'I don't have a pencil!'" 

Eventually, the Burketts were able to get into a local Airbnb, where they stayed until May. From there, it was a rental house for a few months, until finally Thanksgiving break of 2022, when they were able to move into their newly-built house. 

The family chose to rebuild in the same spot as their previous home. This time, with a nicer layout and a concrete 'oh crap' room in case another tornado makes its way through. 

"It's kind of sad though because I'm starting to forget the layout of our older house," Burkett noted. "Talking about it to someone, it doesn't sound like a big deal. But that was my childhood home. So that's a little hard." 

Up and down the street, similarly-new houses dot the hills. But some neighbors decided not to rebuild, leaving skeleton foundations in the earth; the only trace of the lives once lived along spots of Carver Road. 

On either side of the street, twisted pieces of sheet metal, house shingles and chunks of concrete can still be seen dotting the woody slopes. Widow makers and gnarled, uprooted trees and branches also remain as evidence of the tornado's path. 

"This past week I've been having nightmares about the tornado," Burkett remarked. "I feel like it's a hazy dream or something. Sometimes I don't really know how to feel. Like, this whole year is kind of glossed over. I know this happened, but I feel like the days are long (and) the months are short and the years are even shorter." 

Today, one year on, the family still has to unpack a few boxes of belongings and sort through crates of leftover debris. But all of them are here to remember what that night was like, one year ago. 

"It sounds really cheesy but it's true," Burkett said. "There's some people that lost family members but we're still here. Safe and sound." 

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