Saturday, March 23, 2019

Eagle Butte
Mostly cloudy
Mostly cloudy

Straight-line winds leave a wide swath of damage across CRST

The night was dark and quiet, thick with humidity and full of unsuspecting people.

Jaime Swallow was in bed when she heard the roar of wind and her trailer started shaking.

Swallow, a nurse working in the ER at IHS on temporary assignment, had just experienced a tornado in her home near Cincinnati, OH, and the wind sounded just like that tornado. She leapt from bed and rushed to the door, which was held tight by the wind.

After struggling with the door, she ran through the strengthening wind to Tania White Bull’s house.

Once inside, White Bull told Swallow her RV, her home for the past 12 months, was in the air. By morning, the RV was in shambles, with her belongings strewn across the street and IHS housing lawns.

She stood in the predawn of the day, smoking a cigarette and trying to find a pair of shoes to replace the ones she borrowed from White Bull .

If not for White Bull, Swallow said, she would not be standing there that morning.

Stories such as Swallows are being shared across Cheyenne River Reservation after a severe thunderstorm swept across the state registering an estimated 90 mph straight-line winds, said Meteorologist Ryan Luek with the National Weather Service in Aberdeen.

Many people wondered if the storm produced a tornado or tornado-like winds, but Luek said the damaged, as assessed at this time, indicated strong, straight line winds.

Straight line winds can produce a down burst, which can lift an RV, such as Swallows, or tip a truck, such as the Fritolay truck turned on its side in the Ampride parking lot.

Straight line winds can occur with tornado winds in a storm, which may account for the tornado watch alerts that many people heard on their phones.

Since no tornados were spotted by the trained spotters in the local communities, no tornado alarm was sounded, and since the winds swept through so quickly, John Bachman, a spotter for the Eagle Butte area, said that it was too late to sound the alarm by the time he realized what was happening.

An alarm did sound after the winds died down, but that was a fire alarm addressing a downed tree on electrical lines that was igniting sparks, Bachman said.

Many people confuse the fire alarm with the tornado watch and warning alarms.

Each alarm sounds for three minutes, Bachman said.

The fire alarm has a long slow high to low sound. The tornado watch alarm has a long steady sound, and the tornado warning has a fast high to low sound.

The reason that it can be difficult to tell the difference between them is because the siren rotates, and when it rotates away from your location, the sound fades, making it seem like its sound frequency is oscillating, even if it is not, explained Bachman.

Bachman said that while there are three sirens in the Eagle Butte area, there is another siren needs for the IHS housing area, but it would need to purchased by IHS, and Bachman said that IHS has not purchased a new siren for that area yet.

The Dupree siren is in good operating condition according to the Ziebach County Sheriff’s office.

Remi Beautiful Bald Eagle, CRST Intergovernmental Affairs Coordinator, flew over the damage area July 9 and said the damage looks like someone took a wide paint brush and  wiped it across CRST land.

Beautiful Bald Eagle said there are two distinct areas of damage. One area indicates straight line winds and the area, along Cottonwood Creek, looks more like hail damage, he said. 

Beautiful Bald Eagle said that you do not get a real clear idea of the damage until you get an aerial perspective.

“It was an eye-opening experience for me,” he said.

Beautiful Bald Eagle is collecting data for CRST Chairman Frazier’s report to request the storm-ravaged areas be declared disaster areas, which would alleviate the tribe’s financial strain as they “help people outside of the normal scope of assistance.”

If the tribe can receive aid from FEMA or the Red Cross, then more assistance can be offered to people who have suffered losses resulting from the storms.

An example might be like when a person’s electricity fails and food goes bad.  If the food was purchased through SNAP benefits, there is a chance, under disaster relief, that moneys can be allotted for food reimbursement.

The kind of help the tribe could get will depend on the damage assessment, and Beautiful Bald Eagle said he was not sure how acute the emergency here is compared to damages in other areas of the state.

Stories of people in the Eagle Butte area share a common theme — people were taken by surprise, and while many people had to leave their homes to seek shelter.

Tammy Hernandez lives in Habitat, and said that both her doors opened and everything was sucked out. Her relatives next door rushed over and they all went to her basement, which had water in it from the storm that hit June 29.

Ardis DePoy said she heard the warnings on the weather radio and called family members, woke up her husband, but by that time, the winds hit.

“I just cleaned the shelter out that day. We were trying to get out there, but it hit so fat, we couldn’t. I hid under the table with a blanket,” DePoy said.

Beautiful Bald Eagle said that he and his family rushed to the tribal offices and Administrative Officer Kenny Little Thunder was already there .

Many people made it to the offices, but couldn’t get out of their cars, or did not want to risk getting out of their cars, so they parked close to the garages along the back parking lot of the old tribal offices building, Beautiful Bald Eagle said.

Hernandez said that some of her neighbors without basements went to homes with basements, but that no one that she knows of had a plan ahead of time of where to go in case of emergency weather threats.

“When times like that hit,” said Beautiful Bad, “we should all be looking out for our relatives, to the left and the right.”

While that seems to be the case for  Eagle Butte residents, the one thing that many people did not seem to have in place ahead of time was a pre-arranged and pre-practiced plan of emergency.

Beautiful Bald Eagle suggested that people should work with their families and neighbors to make a plan, determining where to go and who will bring what emergency supplies to that the safety of everyone in the community can be secured.

Downed trees, roof damage, dented vehicles with shattered windows and downed power lines resulted from straight-line winds that were estimated to have reached 90 mph at midnight on July 3 and 4. On the countryside, CRST residents lost barn roofing and grain bins. At dawn on July 4, people were already up or still up assessing the damages and cleaning up. Photo by Jody Rust