TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - The architectural fronts were hidden behind facades built probably around the 1960s, said Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District. The July tornado severely damaged many of those facades, exposing a few buildings with nearly 200-year-old stonework and masonry.
"The big joke around here now is: What's behind your facade?" Etter said. "The storm took off half the facades along Main Street. It was one of the most astounding things, because behind the facades were these hidden gems."
The most impressive so far is a Chinese restaurant, where a shear metal exterior hid the original old Fidelity Bank building. The structure contains huge stone columns and intricate engravings.
The owners of the Ocean Chinese Restaurant plan to restore the old building front, Etter said. Other downtown business owners have expressed similar desires for their newly exposed historic fronts.
"Our town is going to look even more beautiful and historic than it did before," Etter said.
It's the silver lining, she said, to what has been an extremely difficult situation.
The tornado hit Marshalltown the afternoon of July 18. It roared through the city's downtown, ripping away roofs and sending cars flying.
"One of my employees was trying to get home, and she drove right into it," said Bobby Shomo, an insurance provider who works in downtown Marshalltown. "She stopped her car, pushed back her seat and lay down on the floorboards. I was trying to get ahold of her. I thought she was dead."
Many people were injured, and the damage was intense, but no one died.
"Once it passed, people started to slowly come out of basements," Shomo said. "People just wandered around with glazed over eyes, trying to make sense of it all. I spent the day just walking around, hugging people."
By morning, residents were clearing away debris. And within a week, volunteers poured into the town from across the country to help clean up.
Nearly a month later, the streets and lawns are clear. But the damage to homes and buildings will take much longer to address.
"We're still in the phase where we're trying to assess the damage," Etter said. "I really have no idea how much it will all cost -- no idea."
The tornado ripped through 88 city blocks. Roughly 800 buildings were damaged, 250 of those sustained severe damage. Most of the downtown buildings lost roofs, Etter said.
Some of those buildings will have to be demolished, she said. Others will need extensive repairs.
It will take months -- if not years -- to rebuild.
The Marshalltown Central Business District has collected donations to help residents rebuild, and plans to pay whatever insurance does not cover, Etter said.
"People have sustained so much loss," Etter said, her voice choked with tears. "It's really hard to talk about it without getting emotional. Our town will never look the same. But the outpouring of support has been overwhelming. People have been so generous, it's unbelievable."