WESSINGTON SPRINGS, S.D. — A tornado tore through this small Jerauld County town late Wednesday, leaving a trail of destruction but no fatalities or serious injuries.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning at 7:25 p.m. Wednesday for the county, including Wessington Springs, a small town of about 1,000 people 125 miles northwest of Sioux Falls. At 7:45 p.m., based on law enforcement reports, a tornado “went right through the heart of town,” meteorologist Todd Heitkamp said.
All of the town’s residents were accounted for and only one person had to be treated for injuries at the local hospital, according to Jerauld County State’s Attorney Dedrich Koch, who was serving as spokesman for the disaster mitigation team.
“At this point, what we’re doing is we’re organizing for tomorrow. We are securing the damaged areas tonight, locking those down,” Koch said. “We’ll assess damages and worry about cleanup in the morning.”
The town’s emergency sirens gave residents significant advance notice to the threat, Koch said. About 30 to 40 people waited out the storm in the nuclear fallout shelter in the basement of the Jerauld County courthouse. At least 11 homes are damaged to the point of being uninhabitable, Koch said. Three businesses on the south end of town also were a total loss.
Laura Baker of Wessington Springs heard the warnings and was in her basement when the tornado rumbled through town.
“It kind of sounded like a freight train,” Baker said.
After the storm passed, she watched the neighbor kids for a few hours while her neighbor joined volunteers offering help to those who needed it.
Baker was just leaving her home for the first time around 10:30 p.m., in search of generators in hopes of saving inventory at the flower shop she runs.
The storm knocked out electricity to the town, and power was left off through the night as a safeguard for emergency responders.
Avera Health has a hospital and nursing home in Wessington Springs, both of which sustained minor damage, including a few broken windows, according to vice president of public relations Lindsey Meyers.
“I just talked to our folks who are at the hospital there,” Meyers said. “There’s quite a bit of debris. The town is on lockdown.”
Two Avera facilities were operating on emergency backup power and Avera Weskota Memorial Hospital was staffed and ready to accept patients. As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, it had only seen one patient for storm-related injuries.
That injury occurred on a farm outside of town, Koch said. A woman was trapped in a farm house that had been damaged in the storm until first responders were able to rescue her and get her to the hospital. She was in good condition late Wednesday.
The same tornado that ravaged Wessignton Springs then traveled east, narrowly missing the towns of Lane, Alpena and Woonsocket.