Now that I've tracked down all my Iowa City friends and family, heard some stories, seen some pictures (and more pictures), I feel qualified to give a more detailed report on the tornadoes.
My friend who works downtown writes:
Eastern Iowa was hit by 17 tornadoes yesterday. It's pretty breathtaking. Houses with roofs blown off and walls missing. Cars overturned in the road and in ditches. Massive trees taken down and uprooted. And all this happened within a half mile from [downtown]. The Dairy Queen on Riverside - the really old one by the river that you could walk up to was completely destroyed. St. Patrick's church downtown (near the post office) had the roof torn off. The front of the rec center was ripped off. The Happy Joes that [our friend] was working at for a while was crushed. The power has been down since 8:30 last night and won't be back until tonight.
He went on to say that stores are throwing out large amounts of perishable product due to the electrical outage but that nearby Cedar Rapids is ok (except for some hail) and everyone he knows in Iowa City is ok - miraculously.
My mom works near downtown and walked around a bit. She said it's unbelievable. The city has come together to express unanimous shock at the mess that was left behind. The media is reporting on the major scenes: the church, the sorority, Happy Joes, but what they haven't mentioned is the destruction in the residential areas - the tornadoe apparently took out some houses along Rochester and down Iowa Ave (bottom picture, at left), she wasn't sure how far the damage went due to the difficulty driving. The gawkers had both road and pedestrian traffic backed up considerably.
I wish everyone luck cleaning up the mess and rebuilding, I really wish I could be there to help (and do some gawking).
Some great photos can be found through a University of Iowa News Release, and at the Daily Iowan and Press Citizen websites (including a spectacular video through the Press Citizen).