ANAMOSA, Iowa – A summer storm-driven tornado in eastern Iowa caused heavy damage at J&P Cycles June 30, forcing the retail center to close temporarily for cleanup and the distribution center to switch briefly to manual processes.
The storm hit just one day after J&P’s annual open house, which drew about 45,000 visitors, according to retail and events director Tara Blanchard. Visitors and vendors had gone home, but J&P was still dismantling the outdoor showroom area.
“The rally ended at five [on] Sunday and the storm started around 1 p.m. Monday,” she said. “The team was working to get the extended showroom out of the tent. Unfortunately we can’t tear that down in one day. They had gotten maybe through half of it before the storm took place.”
By 3 p.m. Monday, employees and four shoppers took shelter in the J&P facility’s storm shelter for about half an hour as the worst of the storm hit.
“It does feel like forever when you can hear things hitting the side of the building,” Blanchard said. “There’s no phone service so you don’t know what’s happening outside. It gets warm – that’s a lot of bodies to be crowded together.”
When they emerged, the storm had picked up the tent outside and vaulted the tentpoles into the building in several places. Think magician’s sword box act.
“We had a significant amount of water damage that was caused from the different metals making holes in the building,” Blanchard said. “This team worked incredibly hard through the night to make sure the holes were fixed and no more water was getting in.”
Employees were tired but safe as they mopped up. Most had worked the open house all weekend.
“These people haven’t had a day off in a while. They are working diligently to get things back to normal as soon as possible,” Blanchard said. “The retail center is shut down until we can determine it is structurally sound and get the merchandise back in there.”
Meanwhile, work went manual in the distribution center. The shop was running on a generator until power was restored Monday night, which halted some systems. Some of the community was still without phone service or power Tuesday.
J&P was able to take orders, but operations were interrupted for cleanup and repairs. It was too early for damage estimates, as insurance adjusters were just arriving on the scene to make their assessments.
“We were able to hand-pick orders. We were not able to use the systems and the processes we usually do,” Blanchard said.
Online order fulfillment is ongoing, and the management hopes to have the retail store open for the July 4 weekend.
Anamosa was particularly hard-hit. Downed power lines and trees trapped some people in their houses. Straight-line winds reached speeds of 75 to 80 miles per hour.
“There had been storm chasers in Des Moines most of the day giving warnings. They suspect that the tornado bounced over the Anamosa penitentiary and just bounced over here,” Blanchard said.
Not far away at McGrath Powersports in Cedar Rapids, the 2013 Dealernews Top 100 Dealer of the Year escaped unscathed, but a representative said many employees’ homes were damaged.
“I went home to a war zone last night,” said McGrath office manager Angel Davis. “I went to work, everything was fine. About 2:30 p.m. the storm started coming in. About 3 o’clock we lost power…It just decided to get ugly yesterday.”
Still, she said, it could have been worse. “Nobody lost houses. A lot of people have water in their houses.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad issued a disaster emergency proclamation for Adair, Cedar, Guthrie, Jones and Linn counties.
Photos courtesy of J&P Cycles