Congestion plagues SD tornado cleanup
WESSINGTON SPRINGS, S.D. – Wessington Springs remained off-limits to outsiders Friday because of concerns that congestion would slow the cleanup from a Wednesday tornado.
Cleanup crews were struggling to maneuver through town smoothly because of narrow streets filled with parked vehicles and debris.
Mayor Melissa Mebius said that’s among the chief reasons the community has so far not allowed outside volunteers to help. Family members of tornado victims have been asked to carpool into town when possible.
“We’re still in the personal property recovery stage,” she said.
Officials said volunteers could be allowed in the city soon, possibly as early as today.
An estimated 43 homes were damaged by the tornado, including as many as 30 that have been deemed uninhabitable. At least 12 businesses were damaged and three were destroyed, and officials said the damage counts could rise as structural engineers continue assessments. No life-threatening injuries were suffered, thanks in part to early tornado warnings.
Residents are being directed to pile debris on the curb for the South Dakota National Guard and other entities to haul away. They’ve also been directed to clean the debris outside their homes before doing inside cleanup, because the National Guard cannot assist with inside cleanup due to liability issues.
Another focus is restoring power. The portion of the city west of Dakota Avenue and a two block stretch of Main Street now have electricity. Residents were being instructed to use as little power as possible and to avoid using air conditioning. Power poles were being installed where possible in the damaged areas, but there’s not a timeline for power returning to those areas. An emphasis is also being placed on getting landline phone service restored.
Medical operations are now functioning at nearly full strength. The town’s clinic opened at noon Friday and was able to assist with minor injuries and handle prescription refills. Avera Weskota Memorial Hospital Administrator Gaea Blue said the hospital was operating with full staff Friday, despite operating only on generator power. The tornado’s path was about a half block east of the hospital.