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Saturday's storms topple trees, damage headstones at Winterset Cemetery

Many of the fallen trees are across the oldest section of the cemetery, with some tombstones dating back well into the 1800s.

WINTERSET, Iowa — As if March 5's EF-4 tornado wasn't enough, the Winterset community is cleaning up once again after Saturday's straight-line wind damage in Madison County.

The National Weather Service estimates winds of around 70 mph when the cemetery was hit Saturday, according to Madison County Emergency Manager Dio Ayala.

"It's wet here [in the cemetery]. So that might have helped push the trees down. But the amount of damage that I've seen here reminds me of the March 5 tornado, in terms of the complete destruction of trees all over the place," Ayala told Local 5.

The 30-acre cemetery has over 9,000 gravestones, with many unmarked graves from the 19th century. Most of the trees that fell were in the oldest part of the cemetery, with dozens of stones damaged or destroyed.

"We have records going back 30 or 40 years that will help identify stones that are currently difficult to read. Then, each one will need to be assessed on whether it only needs to be reset, or if it has to also be repaired and reset," Linda Smith, Secretary with the Madison County Genealogical Society, said.

The downed trees must be carefully removed from the gravesites without heavy machinery, and then the stone recovery effort will begin. There is no timeline for that process yet.

Even with all that 2022 has brought Madison County, there is a sense of perseverance. 

"We are Madison County strong. We're resilient," Ayala said.

If you want to help the cemetery's recovery efforts, send a check to the City of Winterset, at 124 W Court Ave, Winterset, IA 50273. Make sure to denote "Winterset Cemetery" in the memo line.

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