BELMOND — Just minutes after the end of the homecoming parade as the sky darkened in the west, an F5 tornado tore through the center of Belmond.
That night, Belmond High School’s football team — with a 31-game winning streak — was scheduled to face Lake Mills, which also was undefeated.
Instead, much of the town’s commercial district was left in ruins at 2:56 p.m. Oct. 14, 1966.
Six people were killed and hundreds were injured. The western area of the city was seriously damaged, including a residential area and several blocks of the business district.
A total of 109 homes were destroyed and 160 had major damage. A newly-built post office was among the business buildings wrecked.
About 75 of 112 businesses were destroyed. The tornado ripped off the roof and front wall of the Belmond Hotel, flattened We Three Market and the Belmond post office, blew away houses and cars and changed the face of Belmond’s main street.
“Downtown Belmond is gone,” read the first sentence of the story in the next day’s Globe Gazette. Damage was estimated at $11 million.
The storm plowed through Belmond at a northeast angle. Later, the clock in a downtown cafe was found stopped at 2:55 p.m.
The tornado, which the Fujita Scale says would have had wind speeds exceeding 200 mph, hit before the era of sophisticated weather radar and warning systems.
“No sirens, no nothing,” Belmond firefighter Richard Kling told the Globe Gazette in 2006. “That all came later. You looked at the sky. But you couldn’t see that (tornado) coming. It was just black.”
He watched houses sail past, saw trees flying and railroad cars flipped over.
Postal carrier Maynard Holmgaard had almost finished his mail route in the south part of town. He saw ponies from the parade being guided back toward the sale barn and felt a light rain.
He awoke in the hospital a week later.
He suffered a concussion, nearly lost an arm, lost part of a finger and was “pretty well bruised up.” He did not return to full-time work until mid-1968.
“I’m lucky just to be here, period,” Holmgaard, still a Belmond firefighter at age 83, told the Globe Gazette in 2006. He died at age 90 in 2013.
The recovery started immediately. Volunteers ranged from area high school students to Amish from elsewhere in the state. The Red Cross set up a Belmond relief fund.
Belmond Historical Society Board President Larry Turner said he had eaten at a restaurant and was heading to a barber shop when the tornado hit.
Heading down the street, “it just felt like something was wrong and I started running,” he said.
He took shelter in a nearby laundromat.
“The first thing I thought of was how is the rest of (my) family,” Turner said. “Our end of town got really devastated, although our house did stand.” All survived.
As a result of the tornado, the community rebuilt the downtown with an outdoor mall-like facade along a four-block stretch of Main Street.
“What is ironic to me, is when you are traveling, or go somewhere ... for some reason they know about that tornado,” Turner said.
“For some people, they never get over it for the fact that they lost loved ones,” he said. “The first thing, obviously, is the impact that it had on so many lives. It wasn’t only in town.”
“It’s just one of those things that is part of our history,” he said.
Belmond’s twister is the only F5 tornado to occur in Iowa in the fall, according to the Iowa Weather Network.
The National Weather Service says fewer than 1 percent of U.S. tornadoes since 1950 have been classified as F4 or F5. Charles City was also struck by an F5 on May 15, 1968.