PIERRE, SD (KELO-AM)
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
Last week was a difficult one for South Dakota. On Monday night, the Sioux Falls area received record rainfalls. The National Weather Service predicted that the Big Sioux River would reach an all-time high and cause major flooding in Union County. Canton received nearly 9 inches of rain in one night, making the town inaccessible for almost a whole day.
In response to the heavy rainfall, I activated the National Guard and sent other state resources into the area to help local officials build up their defenses to flooding.
Then, on Wednesday night, severe weather struck again. A tornado ripped right through the southeast portion of Wessington Springs. I arrived just a couple of hours after the tornado hit and by that point, emergency responders had determined that, miraculously, there were no deaths or even serious injuries. Just a few people with bumps and bruises. Unfortunately, the destruction of the property was extensive. Once the sun came up on Thursday morning, it became apparent that more than 20 homes and at least three businesses had been destroyed. Many others were badly damaged.
Once the National Guard, Highway Patrol and other state resources arrived on the scene, the long process of cleanup began.
Meanwhile, in Union County, we finally got some good news. The river crested earlier than expected, and the waters did not reach the projected level. As a consequence, we were able to avoid much of the flooding damage that was feared.
Those are the facts of the weather disasters we dealt with that week. Let me tell you though, what else I saw.
In Wessington Springs, I saw first responders, equipped and ready to go, at nearly midnight on the night of the tornado. Earlier, they had knocked on door after door to warn people to find shelter. After the storm hit, they went back to every home that was damaged, to make sure that people were safe. Many of those first responders suffered damage to their own homes. But they weren’t asking to take the night off. They weren’t asking to go back and start picking up the pieces of their own property. They were asking what they could do next.
Wessington Springs Mayor Melissa Mebius was just elected last month, but she asserted herself, took command of the situation and is leading the community in recovery. It wasn’t until the morning after the storm that she even bothered to mention to me that her own home was uninhabitable because of the storm.
In Union County, we also saw the local leaders step up. Having experienced the massive Missouri River flooding three years ago, these officials knew what they were doing and they were ready to respond. Volunteers around the McCook Lake area were not in short supply. People showed up, and they were happy to help their neighbors prepare for the worst.
When Lt. Gov. Matt Michels visited Canton, he witnessed the people’s self-reliance and sense of optimism. More than 200 volunteers showed up. Groups from SDSU, USD, Iowa and many charitable organizations drove all the way to Canton to lend a hand.
The past few weeks haven’t been easy for South Dakota, especially for those who were directly affected. But times like these make me proud of the people of our state. Though the weather in our state will continue to be unpredictable, the integrity of South Dakotans is something upon which we can always depend.