PARKERSBURG, Iowa - Half of this small town lay in ruins or heavily damaged yesterday, following a deadly tornado that ripped apart a stretch of northern Iowa.

The Sunday afternoon twister killed six people in Iowa, four of them in Parkersburg and two others in nearby New Hartford. In neighboring Minnesota, a child was killed by violent weather in a suburb of St. Paul.

"You really are overwhelmed when you see it," Iowa Gov. Chet Culver said yesterday after touring the Parkersburg area. "You can't imagine this kind of devastation, homes completely gone. And to see people trying to sort through their belongings is very difficult."

Rescuers continued picking through the wreckage in search of possible victims but officials said they were hopeful that no one else remained missing.

In addition to those killed, about 70 people were injured, two of them in critical condition.

Officials counted 222 homes destroyed, 21 businesses destroyed and more than 400 homes damaged. Among the buildings destroyed were city hall, the high school and the town's sole grocery store and gas station.

That's about half of the homes in Parkersburg destroyed or severely damaged, said Butler County Sheriff Jason Johnson.

"There's so much hurt here, I don't know where to start," said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who owns a farm near New Hartford.

Warning sirens sounded early enough to give residents time to seek shelter, said Parkersburg Mayor Bob Haylock. "Without that, we would have a tremendous amount of injuries and loss of life," Haylock said. "People were down in their basements and waiting it out."

However, Haylock said most of those killed in Parkersburg were in basements. All were adults, he said.

Diane Goodrich rode out the storm in her basement with her husband and three neighbors.

"The noise was just unbelievable," Goodrich said yesterday as she searched through the ruins of her home. "Our ears were popping. We could hear trees flying over us. We could hear every piece of furniture that left the house."

The number killed initially was reported as seven but was dropped to six yesterday after a better accounting of residents, according to Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. *