WESSINGTON SPRINGS, S.D. (AP) — A timely warning allowed an entire South Dakota city to shelter from a tornado that razed dozens of homes and businesses but injured only one or two people in the area, officials said Thursday.
Dedrich Koch, the Jerauld County prosecutor, said everyone was accounted for after the twister hit Wessington Springs just before 8 p.m. Wednesday. Tornado alarms sounded several times, prompting residents to head to the city's emergency shelter in the basement of the courthouse, Koch said.
Charles Bergeleen, who has lived in Wessington Springs since 1981, said the twister moved over hills and through the town, missing his house by 50 feet. "There's debris all over that (south) end of town; there's a lot of insulation, wood, siding," Bergeleen said Thursday. "I found a license plate from Texas in my yard. I guess it's from someone who was visiting the area."
Ten businesses were damaged, five of them extensively, and at least 25 of 43 houses that were damaged are uninhabitable, he said Thursday. The city has a population of about 850 residents. "It cut right through the heart of the residential area; it just missed the hospital, nursing home and school," Koch said. The American Legion, a bar, an auto dealer and several farms were destroyed or damaged.
The National Weather Service rated the twister as EF-2. Meteorologist Sally Johnson in Sioux Falls said the tornado was on the ground for about 40 minutes and its winds peaked at 127 mph. Lindsey Meyers, a spokeswoman for Avera Health, said Thursday that the only patient who was treated at the hospital in Wessington Springs in connection with the tornado has been released.
Koch said that woman and her husband suffered minor injuries when a tornado hit their home near Alpena, about 15 miles east of Wessington Springs. He had no further details and did not identify the couple.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard arrived in the city about 125 miles northwest of Sioux Falls late Wednesday. He issued a statement saying at least 100 South Dakota National Guard soldiers and equipment would be deployed to help with cleanup.
The city was without power overnight and Koch said generators would be provided. Meyers said some of the hospital's windows were broken in the storm and that the facility was operating on backup power.
The Red Cross has set up a shelter and expects to serve nearly 400 meals to displaced residents, spokesman Richard Smith said. The Rev. Jim Friedrich said the community was thankful that nobody was seriously hurt.
"We do see our blessings right away," said Friedrich, who's been preaching at St. Joseph's Catholic Church for eight years. "It was very serious damage. What it hit, it hit very hard. That's just why we are thankful that there was good warning."
The tornado did not strike the church. National Weather Service meteorologist Philip Schumacher said two other tornadoes touched down; one near Lane and another near Alpena. He said another tornado touched down in Marshall, Minnesota.
Garcia Cano reported from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.