Derecho brings 90 MPH winds and destruction

The storm on May 12, classified as a derecho, quickly rolled north across the eastern South Dakota landscape, leaving a wake of destruction and dirt. This image was captured just three miles south of Flandreau at what’s known as Bennett’s Corner. More storm photos are in this issue of the Moody County Enterprise.

Residents throughout Moody County continue to clean up after last week’s derecho that swept through the area.
The storm this past Thursday brought with it winds upwards of 90mph as it approached the city of Flandreau. Barns were shredded with remnants stretched out for miles, buildings and silos were flattened, roofs were torn off, generations-old trees were toppled, trampolines were flung, car windows everywhere were shattered, and fences brought down.
The power remains out yet for quite a few throughout the county. Crews initially expect to have it back on close to the time this issue went to press, but on Sunday, Sioux Valley Energy posted an update that, “Unfortunately, our estimated restoration times for some areas has been extended. We’ve never fought storm conditions like this before. We’re basically dealing with a damage path 50 miles wide and 100 miles long” said Vice President of Engineering and Operations Ted Smith.
But no one was severely injured or killed locally. Everyone out talking with neighbors and answering how anyone might help, seemed most grateful for that.
Brad Bjerke was just turning north onto I29 off of I90 to head for home when the fast-moving storm hit. “It was darker than night. I’ve got a little gps unit on my dash, and I had to shut it off, it was too bright. It was just weird,” he said.
His truck made it through.
Steve Fenicle, who was advised that it might be best for him and his wife to leave City Park, wasn’t so lucky. The couple packed up their truck and camper and tried to make it to a safer place before the storm hit. They wound up overturned not even a mile from the entrance to the park.
“It’s totaled. Everything is totaled,” Fenicle told the Moody County Enterprise. “The truck, the camper…the truck lifted up first and then took the camper with it. We’re okay, that’s the main thing.” The couple had intended to spend the entire summer down at City Park after selling their home last year and returning from a winter in Arizona. They’re now not sure what they will do.
Just up the road, first responders were trying to clear the trees blocking their way to City Park. It was the start of a long night, and a long road to recovery for many.
“Luck of the draw,” longtime local farmer Craig Severtson said, of the damage to the family’s barns on the edge of town. Three of the buildings, all more than a century old, will be coming down if they’re not already.
Severtson’s son Beau had just been in the main barn bottle feeding a calf as the storm rolled in. At the time, he had been telling himself that the barn had stood 120 years here, it would probably survive another storm. But just as it was about to hit, something told him to make a run for the house. He only ran back quickly to grab the family’s old blue heeler before the barn he had just been in, collapsed.
“The barn was a complete loss, this barn, the south side walls have completely caved in on our sale barn, our irrigation system has rolled east of town, but we’re all fine, and the livestock has come out of this just fine. We’re grateful for that,” Brett Severtson said as friends showed up quickly to help assess the damage and begin the process of cleaning up.
Near Ward, the high winds wreaked havoc on Iott’s Greenhouse and Gardens which had just opened for the season. In Egan, a couple of the old grain elevators along Highway 34 are flattened. Toward Colman, the Monte and Crystal Mousel farm also took quite a hit. Posting photos of the damage at their family’s farm, Kirk LeBrun shared on Twitter that it was “going to be hard to think about planting for a few days. But it’s all just stuff. Everyone is safe, it’s all replaceable.”
South of Egan, the Luze family got a call in the midst of the storm, informing them their cattle barn was laying across the highway and they might want to get it cleared. The family’s farm sits atop the hill south of town. There was nothing that night to slow the winds before it hit their place. “We saw it all coming in and wondered if our house was going to make it,” said Brittany. “I didn’t know if the house would make it. We knew we were going to lose the barn.”
Further south in Trent, Matt Damm watched with gratitude as a friend quickly came by with his lift truck to trim a tree that hadn’t yet fallen but that was dangling over a garage. The front of the house had already been damaged by a tree that had fallen. He was hoping to avoid further destruction to buildings.
“My wife and granddaughter were in the kitchen when it quickly approached and I yelled at them to seek cover, the sky turned black as I looked over to that gray house right there…I barely made it in when the tree fell and hit the house,” said Damm. “I was born and raised here and this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen come through. Got a lot of repairs to do. We don’t understand it tipped these trees over but that wind chime just stood there and didn’t get damaged at all.”
The Thielsen family doesn’t understand as well, how a bush they buried their father and grandfather’s ashes around is still standing unharmed when the shed they built in memory of Lonnie Thielsen was laying in pieces nearby. Lonnie had always wanted a cabin for the family up at the lake they made. He never had a chance to build it, but his wife had one constructed in his memory just a year ago.
“This was our weekend getaway, and we had planned to spend the weekend up there camping and fishing,” said Aaron Thielsen. “Instead, we got to spend it cleaning up debris. We will hopefully be able to replace it again someday.”
Emergency Management Director Jerrick Charles worked with former director Terry Albers throughout the storm and said that he learned quite a bit in the process. Among the biggest takeaways however are that keeping traffic to a minimum after storms like this in the future will better help emergency crews to get where they need to more quickly. Additionally, he thought it might be worth reminding county residents that this is a good time to reflect on the storm and any deficiencies that you might have had, and then work on being better prepared in the event of another weather or other emergency.

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