Deal family reflects on rescue and recovery following barn collapse in July 19 storm

Pictured above is the scene following the July 19 storm that blew down a barn on the Dennis and Sandy Deal farm south and east of Waukon, trapping Dennis Deal inside. Rescue crews worked for about an hour to extricate Deal from the collapsed structure, revealing a pelvis injury that required surgery but that he is currently recovering from at his home. Standard photo by Sara Aleckson-Melcher.

by Brianne Eilers

Summertime in northeast Iowa always brings the possibility of severe weather, and the severe thunderstorms that passed through the area July 19 caused widespread damage, including the F1 tornado that devastated McGregor. In the Waukon area, high winds recorded as high as 70 miles per hour damaged trees and buildings.

Waukon area resident Dennis Deal experienced first-hand the kind of damage that sheer winds of that nature can cause. Dennis was in the process of doing chores on his family farm on Autumn Road southeast of Waukon when the barn collapsed on top of him due to the winds. Rescuers were able to get to him and he is currently recovering at home from injuries suffered in the incident that required surgery.

Dennis had come in from round baling and checked the weather on the television. The storm was moving away from the area, but there were indications that there would be sheer winds. The Allamakee County native had experienced severe weather involving sheer winds before, and didn't really worry much about it. The chores needed to be done and he headed out to the barn.

He was inside the barn and saw the calf huts just outside the barn door flying up into the air. He estimated that they went up about 13 feet. He recalls taking a couple of steps, and the barn began to buckle, falling in the direction he was heading.

Their farm is located near Rossville. Dennis' wife, Sandy, was in Waukon at work at the time, and one of their sons, Matthew, was at home. Matthew was in the house at the time the winds hit and went to the basement. When the winds subsided, he came back upstairs and looked outside. He noticed that the barn was down. He also noticed that live electrical wires were also down.

After receiving the 911 call, the dispatchers had Allamakee-Clayton REC cut power to the farm immediately and sent emergency vehicles out. Meanwhile, Dennis was able to get his cell phone out of his pocket and also tried to call 911, but the signal was lost. He then tried to call family members and a neighbor to get help, but the lines were either busy or the signal was lost again. He was able to use his cell phone for a light source.

He had ended up in a seated position with a steel girder across the back of his pelvis. Luckily, there were beams that had landed on either side of Dennis, which prevented him from being crushed by the structure.

Sirens approached, and Dennis could hear them, but they sounded like they were fading away. He assumed they could be heading to another emergency, as others were likely having problems too. Then, he heard voices coming closer. Matthew, along with members of the fire department, sheriff's department, paramedics and EMTs were trying to locate Dennis in the rubble. He was able to respond to help them find his location.

By this time, Sandy had been able to get home, and everyone was relieved to know that he was alive and communicating with the rescuers. The next step was extricating Dennis.

Waukon Fire Chief Dave Martin explained that the whole process took 45 minutes to an hour. "This was our first recovery on a building collapse of that stature," Martin noted.

He explained that the barn had collapsed on itself and they essentially had to cut through the roof and part of the first floor to get to Dennis. Using chainsaws, the Jaws of Life and a sawzall, they cut through the barn, using struts for support. They had to work slowly and methodically, constantly monitoring where they cut so that they wouldn't end up putting more pressure on Dennis.

Martin noted that they had 23 firefighters on the scene with the Rescue Truck and a fire engine. Also on scene were two of the Allamakee County Sheriff's deputies as well as Sheriff Clark Mellick, the Veterans Memorial Hospital ambulance crew, neighbors and EMTs. Slowly, they were able to cut away the debris and finally got to Dennis, bringing him up on a back board.

He was then taken by ambulance to Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waukon. It was determined that he had injured his pelvis in two areas. He was air-lifted out of Waukon to an original intended destination of La Crosse, WI, but due to storms there he was diverted to Mayo Hospital in Rochester, MN. He had surgery the next day, Thursday, July 20, and stayed a few days before being transferred back to Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waukon. He was released July 27, and is currently recovering at home.

Life is getting back to normal on the Deal farm. Family, friends and neighbors have pitched in to help with chores and field work. "It was very humbling to see our neighbors there the evening of the storm, and the next day to help us rescue our calves, especially the Yohe family," the Deals said. The Deals are very grateful to Anderson Electric for their quick response to get things rewired on the farm. The family is also very appreciative that neighbor Paul Link has been making hay for them as Dennis continues to recover.

"The outpouring of offers to help and the well wishes, prayers, food, cards and gifts from the community are amazing and have helped us get through this," the family noted.

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