One Year After the Storm

One Year Ago

Casey Jarmes
The News-Review

HARPER – A 136 mph EF4 tornado tore through Keokuk County on March 31 of last year, leaving a trail of destruction as it ripped apart homes outside of Hedrick, Martinsburg, Ollie, Harper and Keota. Close to thirty homes were damaged, with at least 19 of them left completely destroyed. No one in Keokuk County was seriously injured. Annie and Cody Milikin, John Roop, Brandon and Jessica Berg, Christopher and Kari Berg, Grant and Morgan Dickey, Keaton and Jaclyn Greiner, Jim Sterling, Andrew and Jamie VanDeHaar, Greg and Marianne Millikin, Clarence and Nancy Sanders, Nate and Sharon Fritchen, Jenny Chaseys, Dennis Heisdorfer, Josy Sieren, and Steve and Stacie Sieren all suffered damage to their homes and farms.

Last year, The News-Review spoke with Christopher and Kari Berg about the damage to their farm. Back then, Kari stated that there was nothing left and they would have to start over from the beginning. 

“We were there at home when it hit, working on the feed mill, and I ran to the shop to get something from there,” said Christopher. “I heard on the radio that there was a tornado in Ottumwa heading towards Harper...You could see a big black wall. I kept my eye on it as it got closer and closer, you could definitely see that it was more than a black wall. You could start to see the funnel and then pretty much sit there and watch until you started to hear the wind blowing. We headed for the basement. Couldn’t tell exactly if it was going to hit us or gonna go around. Pretty soon we started to hear stuff flying around. I knew it wasn’t too far away.”

“The initial reaction, it was pretty overwhelming for everybody involved,” said Kari. “But in all honesty, it was just a relief knowing that nobody in the line of that storm was hurt...just the relief of knowing that everybody was okay. That made me realize that everything else will be cleaned up in due time and, just like everything, time will take care of it. And it did.”

A common refrain from those hit last year was amazement at the outpouring of support from the community. “People got there in a few days to start patching up building roofs and all that. The help we had the day of the storm, it was mind-boggling how many people we had to help. I mean, there had to be close to 100 people there,” said Christopher.

“It was overwhelming to look at it. But with all the helping hands of the community, our friends, neighbors, family, it felt like the site got cleaned up really quickly...We were so thankful to live within this community because, I mean, in no time it felt like people were out here and taking care of everything with us,” said Kari.

The storm tore apart hog buildings, forcing farmers like Christopher Berg to find ways to keep the rest of their herds alive. “It was pretty overwhelming because it isn’t something you plan for, so I had to make pretty fast decisions on what to do with what...It went from 80 degrees to 40 degrees that night,” said Christopher. “Had to get (the pigs) somewhere where it was warm. They’re not used to that. So we had to find a building to put them in and as soon as we did we had to move that night...We worked on the buildings that weren’t completely damaged, but not good enough to house them for much longer, so we had to relocate them, market some hogs early to make room for those that weren’t big enough to market.”

The storm hit three days after Christopher’s father, who worked at the farm, had a stroke. Christopher’s brother Brandon’s home was destroyed by the tornado, inspiring him to leave the farm and move away. “Had a lot of stuff thrown at us in a pretty short time frame,” said Christopher.

“I feel like it brought us closer as a family,” said Kari. “Anything is possible if you have enough faith and if you believe and you are determined to not give up. I told Christopher the other day, I’m so proud of how he handled everything and took care of stuff, because our whole situation, the farming operation here went from a three-person operation to one person in a matter of a week. It’s amazing how he just took charge and did it all without hesitation. And I think that has a lot to do with the faith we have and knowing that, if we just work together, it will all be okay.”

Today, 95% of the Berg farm has been rebuilt.

“Looking at it today, I told Christopher the other day, you wouldn’t even know a tornado hit here a year ago,” said Kari. “It’s amazing. Like it was just kind of perseverance and prayer, that brought us to a new beginning…It’s funny, though, driving down 92, I see pieces of our machine shed wrapped in trees still...In the whole grand scheme of it, everybody was okay, and that is the only thing that will ever matter.”

“You never think you’re going to be the one in the path of the storm,” said Christopher.

“We’re just very thankful for the community we live in and all the helping hands that came together. The positivity of the people around us and that really rubs off on you,” concluded Kari. “After all of this, it just makes you realize how wonderful people are and how we’re excited now that we can jump in and help others whenever needed, because it’s so use, the feeling is overwhelming at first, but then it changes you as a person in the life that your leading to, in a positive way.”




The News-Review

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