Associated Press

WESSINGTON SPRINGS, S.D. (AP) — A timely warning allowed an entire South Dakota city to shelter from a tornado that razed dozens of homes and businesses but injured only one or two people, officials said Thursday.

Dedrich Koch, a Jerauld County prosecutor, said everyone was accounted for after the twister hit Wessington Springs just before 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Tornado alarms sounded several times, prompting residents to head to the city’s emergency shelter in the basement of the courthouse, Koch said.

Ten businesses were damaged, five of them extensively, and at least 25 of 43 houses that were damaged are uninhabitable, he said Thursday. The city has a population of about 850 residents.

“It cut right through the heart of the residential area; it just missed the hospital, nursing home and school,” Koch said Thursday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Heitkamp said law enforcement in Wessington Springs reported that the tornado went right “through the heart of town.”

The American Legion, a bar, an auto dealer and several farms were destroyed or damaged.

“Right now we are securing areas,” Koch said late Wednesday. “We’ll assess damage and cleanup in the morning when we get some light.”

Lindsey Meyers, spokeswoman for Avera Health, said a woman was treated at the hospital in Wessington Springs and that she is in good condition.

Koch said that woman and her husband suffered minor injuries when the tornado hit their home near Alpena, about 15 miles east of Wessington Springs. He had no further details and did not identify the couple.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard arrived in the city about 125 miles northwest of Sioux Falls late Wednesday. He issued a statement saying at least 100 South Dakota National Guard soldiers and equipment would be deployed to the city.

The city was without power overnight and Koch said generators would be made available. Meyers said some of the hospital’s windows were broken in the storm and that the facility was operating on backup power.

He said the Red Cross would provide bedding and food for displaced residents.

Jaime Hoefert of Wessington Springs told KELO-TV she saw the tornado move over hills and through the town.

“We did see at least three homes destroyed with lots of structural damage around that area on the south side of town,” Hoefert said.

Father Jim Friedrich said the community was thankful that nobody was seriously hurt.

“We do see our blessings right away,” said Friedrich, who’s been preaching at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church for eight years. “It was very serious damage. What it hit, it hit very hard. That’s just why we are thankful that there was good warning.”

The tornado did not strike the church.

Multiple calls to the Jerauld County Sheriff’s Office rang busy, and calls to the county emergency management office went unanswered.

National Weather Service meteorologist Philip Schumacher said two tornadoes touched down nearby, one near Lane and another near Alpena. He also said another tornado had touched down in Marshall, Minnesota.


Associated Press writer Regina Garcia Cano contributed to this report from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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