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Midwest surveys damage from rare autumn tornadoes

By Greg McCune

(Reuters) - With daylight on Saturday, emergency responders began assessing the destruction from a series of more than a dozen rare autumn tornadoes that caused injuries and significant damage in rural areas of Iowa and Nebraska.

The National Weather Service received 18 reports of tornadoes touching down in the two states on Friday night, including one or more that were a mile wide. The two hardest hit areas were Wayne County, Nebraska, and Woodbury County, Iowa, local officials said.

There were unconfirmed reports of as many as 14 people injured in Wayne County, Jodie Fawl, Nebraska emergency management spokeswoman, said on Saturday.

Several businesses were destroyed and highways in and out of the small city of Wayne, Nebraska, were closed for a couple of hours after the storm, said Lee Wrede, a police dispatcher in the town.

Wrede said there had been a number of injuries but things could have been worse. "We were extremely lucky," he said. "A lot of things worked right."

A hazardous materials team responded to a possible gas leak at the Van Diest Supply Co, an agricultural chemical distributor in Wayne County, emergency officials said.

In Iowa, Woodbury County Emergency Management Director Gary Brown said that several tornadoes touched down, destroying more than 20 homes and damaging 40 to 60 farms. There were no serious injuries, he said.

It was unclear how many tornadoes touched down in all, said Billy Williams, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The number of 18 listed by the weather service could include duplicate reports.

It is rare for tornadoes to strike in the fall. The most active season is usually in the spring or early summer.

In an 11-day period in May, Oklahoma was struck by two EF5 tornadoes, the strongest rating assigned to such storms. The first, on May 20, flattened whole sections of the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, killing 24 people including seven children at a school.

The second, on May 31, was the widest tornado ever recorded in the United States at 2.6 miles. Nineteen people died in the storms across a wide swath of Oklahoma on that day.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, and Greg McCune in Chicago; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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