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Cleanup underway at 20-acre flower farm in Winterset

"It's just crazy seeing something that was just so lush, just completely flattened," said Jenn O'Neal, owner of PepperHarrow Farm.

MADISON COUNTY, Iowa — Clean up efforts are underway at PepperHarrow Farm after a tornado ripped through Madison County, Iowa, on Saturday. 

Several tornadoes touched down throughout the afternoon and evening across central Iowa, leaving damage from Winterset to Newton. 

Iowa officials said a total of seven people -- including two children under the age of 5 -- were killed in the storms. Six of them were killed in Madison County, and the seventh died in a rural area southeast of Chariton.

There were no injuries at PepperHarrow Farm, which is located in Winterset, but the damage was severe. The 20-acre flower farm was filled with down trees and branches, while sheet metal hung in the trees that were left standing. Three greenhouses, two barns and a flower cottage were all destroyed, owners Adam and Jenn O’Neal said. 

Power lines were also blown down. 

“Doesn’t really look like much now, but we grow, cut flowers and lavender for the market,” Adam said. 

Jenn was out in one of the greenhouses planting and checking on seedlings when they got the tornado warning alert. It was her son’s 15th birthday on Saturday and his friends were at the farm celebrating. 

Adam watched the funnel form from the front porch, taking this video. 

“From the time we took shelter to the time the tornado came through was probably about five minutes,” Jenn said. “Our ears just started popping and it sounded like a vacuum coming through almost. And then we could feel airflow, and just, we heard all sorts of awful sounds.” 

“You hear people describe the sound and it’s indescribable,” Adam added. “It was loud, it was insane.” 

Adam was the first to leave their basement shelter to assess the damage. 

“Adam had to prepare me as I was coming back up from the basement,” Jenn said. “He’s like, ‘It’s bad.’ That’s all he said was it’s bad. It’s indescribable. I looked out and just saw everything completely gone. I just lost it.” 

Early Sunday, the farm posted an update on its Facebook page, "We now have parking available at the farm for anyone who wants to come directly out to help us with cleanup efforts." 

Dozens of community members drove out to the farm Sunday morning to help with that clean up, sawing branches and piling the debris in a pile to be burned, while others picked nails out of the dirt that had blown out of the garage. 

“It’s unlucky when they touch down like this and take out a farm,” one man helping with cleanup efforts said. “You see all the great people here in this state how we come together.” 

"It's just crazy seeing something that was just so lush, just completely flattened," Jenn said. “Not to see any of our structures we’re used to looking out at and that we worked so hard over the last 11 years to build, it’s really hard.” 

Credit: PepperHarrow
PepperHarrow Farm in Winterset, Iowa, before the March 5 tornado.

Despite all the damage to the farmland and buildings, the O’Neal family home remained largely untouched. A large tree had partially fallen right by the house, seemingly just barely scrapping the side of it. 

“Some of our neighbors had it a lot worse, so honestly, in all this, we were really blessed,” Adam said. 

The family said it will take them years to rebuild and replant the farm, but they are just thankful for their safety and to be able to sleep in their own beds Sunday night.  

“I don’t even know,” Jenn said. “Just I think one step at a time, one foot in front of the other and we’ll figure it all out.” 

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the farm rebuild. More information on how to donate can be found by clicking/tapping here. 

The farm has been featured in several magazines, including Country Gardens, Better Homes & Gardens (online) and BHG-Gardening for Health and Cottage Journal, according to the website. They've also been a vendor at the Des Moines Farmers' Market. 

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