Earlier this month, our state was hit by a bomb cyclone – an unusual name to match unu-sual circumstances. The middle of our state got buried in snow, while the southeast corner was devastated by four inches of rain fallen on frozen ground, sending it into the river and causing major flooding throughout the region.
As soon as it was safe to leave Pierre, I headed to the southeast to visit Yankton, Dakota Dunes, Sioux Falls, and other communities impacted by the storms. I saw flooded base-ments, destroyed fields, collapsed foundations, and city parks with brand new equipment – all completely underwater. I was thankful for the conversations I had with local leaders and the ways we’re working together on recovery efforts.
On March 15, I issued an emergency declaration that will allow us to use special dollars for rebuilding our communities in the coming weeks. We lost a lot of bridges, culverts, trails, and infrastructure that will need attention. It will also help us qualify for federal programs and FEMA funds.
I’ve been in constant communication with Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken and other community leaders in the southeast. I’ve also positioned one of my senior staff members in the Sioux Falls Emergency Operations Center so our local and state teams can seamless-ly coordinate on recovery efforts and execute quickly when situations arise, especially as we’re preparing for additional flooding along the Big Sioux River.
Furthermore, I have been in close contact with the White House and other federal officials to ensure we’re utilizing all available resources to address storm damage. As a result of these conversations, FEMA representatives have frequented storm sites and the Corps of Engineers has agreed to an operational training mission to assist with levees. Recovery from these floods requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, so it’s important we use appropriate local, state, and federal resources to minimize damage and enhance communication in communities.
Storms often bring out the worst in people, but in South Dakota, we see the opposite. I heard the story of a Highway Patrol officer who went on a rescue mission, got stuck in the weather, and ended up staying at a farmhouse for several days while the storm passed. They took him in like family. I know of people who used snowmobiles to help their neighbors get to work at our hospitals. Plow drivers who pulled double and triple shifts to keep roads safe. Law enforcement officials who didn’t hesitate to face dangerous situations to ensure order and peace in communities. It’s pretty incredible.
It’s part of that South Dakota grit. The storms were strong, but South Dakota is stronger. We’re resilient. We’re tough. Working together, we will get through this.