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University of Iowa News Release

April 27, 2006

Photo: University of Iowa student Christophe Karabache, whose apartment was destroyed by the April 13 storm. Click here for a high-resolution image.

French Exchange Student Survives Iowa City Tornado

Despite being in an area where tornados are common, many Iowans don't ever see or experience a tornado. But University of Iowa student Christophe Karabache had only lived in Iowa City for a few months when he experienced the fury of the tornado on April 13.

Karabache, a graduate exchange student from the University of Paris III (the Sorbonne), said he not only heard the tornado, but also felt its power as it ripped the walls and roof of his apartment at 929 Iowa Ave. He took cover in a hallway behind a bedroom door as the tornado hit.

"I felt the brutality of the tornado and felt something that seemed like three hard punches, but kept holding the door. This only lasted for a few seconds, but when the tornado was gone I could see only ruins," Karabache said. "I'm glad I'm alive."

Karabache is taking graduate film classes in the UI's Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature. He arrived in January and had been living in the Iowa Avenue apartment until the tornado ripped through the complex, demolishing his apartment and several others. He had only seen tornados on television, and never expected to experience one firsthand.

After the storm, Karabache received immediate food and clothing assistance from the American Red Cross. He was able to return to classes, and find a new apartment, thanks to faculty and staff in the Office for Study Abroad, Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS), and the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature.

On the evening of April 13, Karabache was preparing an evening meal and listening to music as he cooked. A few of his neighbors had gathered in the apartment complex courtyard for a barbeque. There was a lot of noise and some screaming from his neighbors, but then the electricity went out. With the noise, he wasn't sure what to make of the warning sirens, having never heard them before.

With the wind now howling, the apartment started to shake. Not knowing exactly where to go, Karabache went to his bedroom, but saw portions of the ceiling and wall were gone. He went to the second bedroom -- which was unoccupied -- but stayed behind the bedroom's door after hearing a harsh explosion.

After the storm, Karabache found that his neighbors had taken shelter in a laundry room on the ground level of the apartment complex. They didn't warn him that the tornado was coming, but did check to see if he was hurt afterwards. "They were shocked that I was alive," Karabache said.

He escaped major injury, suffering only some cuts and scrapes. After a neighbor cared for his wounds, Karabache was able to find his wallet, passport, a change of clothes and a few belongings. He left the apartment complex to find the Iowa Avenue neighborhood in chaos, a jumble of downed power lines, downed trees and scared and confused residents.

After the storm, Karabache contacted Philippe Dubois, a Sorbonne film professor staying in Iowa City, to make sure he was OK. (Dubois had accompanied Karabache in traveling to the UI as part of the same exchange program.) During the next few days, Karabache stayed with Scott King, director of OISS.

The morning following the tornado, Karabache began to get his life back together. King directed Karabache to the Red Cross, which gave him $50 for food and $100 for clothing. From its emergency fund, OISS was able to replace three books he needed for his studies. Rick Altman, professor of Cinema and Comparative Literature at the UI, was able to find him an apartment on Benton Street with free rent for the rest of the semester. King and John Rogers in the Office for Study Abroad helped Karabache move into the apartment.

For several days after the tornado, Karabache didn't sleep well and was confused about what to do next. But after moving into a new apartment, he feels relaxed and is continuing with his studies. He plans to return to Paris in May, but will never forget his Iowa experience.

"I still think how lucky I was to be still alive after being behind the bedroom door during the tornado," he said.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: George McCrory, 319-384-0012, george-mccrory@uiowa.edu