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Guard Responds After Midwest Storms

A storm system that hit Friday, Oct. 4, sent a tornado across Wayne, NE, damaging homes and businesses. Photo from Associated Press
A storm system that hit Friday, Oct. 4, sent a tornado across Wayne, NE, damaging homes and businesses. Photo from Associated Press

Winter’s wrath came early this weekend when a storm system that began Friday, Oct. 4, sent blizzards across South Dakota, western Nebraska and Wyoming, blocking access to interstates, while tornadoes touched down in Nebraska and Iowa, injuring 15 people and destroying dozens of homes and businesses. Entering the week, the National Guard was assisting relief efforts in South Dakota while authorities in other states closely monitored conditions.

The record-breaking blizzard that hit areas of South Dakota on Friday, resulting in one reported death, hit Rapid City, Deadwood and Black Hills with upwards of 40 inches of snowfall. Countless motorists were left stranded, some as long as 12 to 16 hours. Due to downed power lines, thousands of South Dakota residents were without power, despite efforts by Black Hills Power, working around the clock, to reinstate electricity.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard declared a state of emergency, and 46 M-Day and 13 Active National Guard Soldiers were deployed to the Black Hills and the Western Plains areas. Armed with snow blowers, D7 dozers and Humvees, the Soldiers helped power companies restore power to affected areas and assisted local authorities as they cleared roads and rescued stranded residents and their vehicles.

Local authorities and emergency management, along with volunteers from the American Red Cross, also assisted with relief operations. The Red Cross set up emergency shelters in devastated areas where residents could receive supplies and seek shelter.

Black Hills Power estimates that 28,000 customers were affected by the storm. By Monday morning, roughly 11,300 Black Hills residents were still without power. Grand Electric Cooperative, which provides power to areas in northwestern South Dakota, estimated that by Monday morning, roughly 2,000 poles were still down.

While the blizzard knocked out power and closed roadways Friday in South Dakota and Wyoming, which also had an estimated 30 inches falling in some areas, according to the National Weather Service, several tornadoes touched down in Wayne and Dixon counties, Nebraska. A tornado producing EF3 and EF4 damage, with winds reaching speeds of up to 170 mph, struck the communities of Wayne and Macy in northeast Nebraska on Friday, while tornadoes also touched down in rural regions of Iowa, destroying more than 20 homes and damaging up to 60 farms, according to Woodbury County Emergency Management.

The EF4 twister that hit the City of Wayne, Nebraska, on Friday began 8 miles southwest of Wayne and extended 19 miles northeast, with a width of over 1 mile, according to the National Weather Service. The tornado injured 15 residents and caused millions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses, farmsteads, the Wayne Municipal Airport, an industrial park and a local softball complex. The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reports that the storm also flipped cars, trapping motorists, and ruptured a natural gas line in Wayne.

On Sunday, volunteers met to assist local authorities and the American Red Cross in cleanup efforts, to collect and distribute donations of water, fruit and chips to residents affected by the damage, and assist in other relief efforts.

The Nebraska National Guard flew Gov. Dave Heineman over the region to survey the damage. He arrived by Black Hawk helicopter Sunday to meet with Major General Daryl Bohac, adjutant general for the state, NEMA Assistant Director Al Berndt, Wayne Mayor Ken Chamberlain and Incident Commander Phil Monahan. The state has requested disaster relief from the federal government.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we sustained enough damage,” Heineman said in a press release. “People in this community are resilient, and they are going to rebuild.”

The damage from this sudden storm system didn’t end in Nebraska, however. It also affected other regions, including Montana, which received 32 inches of snow in Pony, while Collbran, CO, received 12.5 inches; Crawford, NE, got 13 inches; and Mott and Elgin, ND, got 12 inches.

– News and staff reports