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3 tornadoes hit central Iowa area

WOODFORD, Iowa — Tornadoes swept across central Iowa on Saturday, damaging homes in several towns and sending college-football fans running from a stadium for shelter.

No serious injuries were immediately reported, but authorities Saturday evening were evacuating Stratford, a town of about 746 residents 50 miles northwest of Des Moines.

"They're evacuating the whole town. Part of it was damaged by a tornado — a good portion of it," said Officer Luke Field of the Ellsworth-Jewell-Stanhope Police Department. The extent of the damage wasn't immediately clear.

In Woodford, 30 miles to the south, 20 to 40 homes were severely damaged, Dallas County Sheriff Brian Gilbert. He said emergency crews had searched house-to-house and hadn't found any victims by evening.

"The big problem right now is power lines are down and gas lines are ruptured," Gilbert said. "We are encouraging people to stay out of the area."

National Weather Service meteorologist Craig Cogil said it appeared that at least three tornadoes touched down Saturday afternoon. In Ames, football fans gathering for the Iowa State-Colorado game were cleared from the stands and told to take shelter in the nearby basketball arena as the tornado sirens sounded. The storm hit on the edge of the city, where city spokeswoman Susan Gwiasda said the damage was mostly broken windows and downed power lines.

"We dodged a bullet with the track of that storm," Iowa State University spokesman John McCarroll said. He said officials had prepared for the chance of dangerous weather during the game.

Tornadoes are rare this late in the year.

There have been 23 November tornadoes in Iowa since 1950, all but six of them recorded in the years 1975 and 1988, according to Weather Service records. Last weekend, another tornado ripped through western Kentucky and Southwest Indiana, killing 22 people.

On Saturday, at least two tornadoes hit in Boone County, with major damage in the Boxholm and Pilot Mound areas, a few miles south of Stratford, a dispatcher said. A convenience store in Woodford was also damaged.

Richard Albracht, 59, had headed for his basement in Woodford when he saw shingles start to fly and heard the sirens.

He said he went outside after the storm passed and found several homes damaged and an empty restaurant with only one wall left standing.

"It's pretty bad. There's houses destroyed and roofs off of houses," he said.

John Kiley and his wife were watching television at their home in rural Woodford when they heard the warning.

"I saw it two, three minutes before it hit," Kiley said. "My wife said go to the basement. I said no. We got in the car and went down the road. I looked out, it hit our house."

His house, barn, garage and another building were severely damaged, and many of his sheep were injured, neighbor Doug Jimeson said.

"There were sheep everywhere," Jimeson said.