BURKE, S.D. — In the span of minutes, Burke took a beating Tuesday night, Aug. 6.
An EF-1 tornado was on the ground for eight minutes, reaching wind speeds of 110 mph, while winds ranging from 80 to 100 mph damaged nearly every important building in the community and ruined houses and trees in the town of 600 in the south-central part of the state. Two people suffered minor injuries as a result of the storm.
And Jason Witt’s business was at the heart of it. The Burke Building Center was one of the most heavily-hit structures as a result of the storm. It was about a block away from where National Weather Service officials deemed the tornado touched down at 10:25 p.m. Tuesday night. Multiple buildings on the property were completely destroyed by the winds, leaving owners with a massive cleanup job and questions about the future.
“We’re looking at a total loss. Everything we have is gone,” said Witt, a part-owner of the business.
Witt noted the storm claimed a shed, the business office, showroom and hardware store portion of the complex and took another estimated 80 feet off another building on the property. The roof from one building was blown onto an adjacent street.
“About the only thing we have left are some units of lumber out here that we’ll be able to get to eventually, but it’s pretty tough,” Witt said.
Down the street, the Burke School District’s complex was heavily damaged, two weeks prior to the scheduled start of school on Aug. 21.
"A lot of our middle school building, it does not look like it will be salvageable, and in our gym, it has water and roof damage," Burke Superintendent Erik Person said. "In our old high school building, it looks like we have a lot of water damage."
Person said the entire storm appeared to come through Burke in the span of about 10 minutes.
"It happened really quick. We were in the living room and we didn't even have time to get to the basement," Person said. "The power went off and you could feel the strong winds, and within 10 minutes, it was over. ... After that, we went out for a drive and it was just like, 'Holy buckets.' It looked like a tornado."
The Burke Civic Center, which includes a gym and community offices, has heavy damage. Burke Mayor Tom Glover said it will likely not be salvageable. He said the cleanup process would continue in an effort to get life and business back to normal in the small town. Members of the community, and neighboring communities, stepped up their efforts to help out, he said.
“We’ve actually got more (equipment) than we thought we had the need for. It’s amazing how fast and how much people will come in and help out,” Glover said.
Kelsea Sutton, president of the Burke Business Promotional Corporation. said the community is dealing with the shock of the storm right now.
"We've got school starting soon. It's a little shocking to everyone in town," Sutton said. "But this is a place we still love, and I think our people will be strong."
The tornado is estimated to have touched down at 10:25 p.m. near the city’s center, before lifting up eight minutes later south of town. The path measured 3.8 miles and was about 75 yards wide.
While no deaths were reported as a result of the storm, some injuries did occur, said Mike Karbo, of the Burke Fire Department. Two community members were pulling into a garage when the storm hit and the roof collapsed on top of them. Karbo said they were taken to the local hospital, which can operate under generator power.
Burke was mostly closed off by law enforcement Wednesday, allowing only those on official business involved with the cleanup, and a handful of others, into the community. Karbo said that was necessary to ensure the safety of the public and to help speed up the cleanup efforts.