Kopfmann: ‘It was like being sandblasted:' Farm couple, only victims seriously injured by SD twister, describe ordeal
ALPENA, S.D. — Ronny Kopfmann lost what he called his “million-dollar view” Wednesday night after a tornado destroyed his farm southwest of Alpena.
The Jerauld County commissioner has lived on the farm the majority of his life, having been born and raised in the now-obliterated farmhouse and having raised his children there with his wife of 42 years, Linda.
“We normally would have sat in the kitchen until the storm passed,” Linda said.
Instead, Ronny was watching the tornado come from the south near Lane right toward his farmstead.
“I thought we better head to the basement,” Ronny said Thursday, as he sat on what remained of his front steps.
As the tornado descended on their house Wednesday night, Ronny and Linda huddled in the basement against their 1949 deep freeze with their tiny dog, Lily, and waited for what would happen next.
“I thought the house would shake a little,” Ronny said.
The house did not shake. It simply lifted up and was gone, he said. Debris went flying through the air, some landing in the basement and other pieces landing scattered throughout the property.
“It was like being sandblasted,” Ronny said of being in the basement when the tornado struck.
Ronny suffered injuries to his left hand and leg, and Linda suffered a cut to her head that required nine stitches. The couple were treated at a hospital in Huron, and they stayed with Linda’s parents Wednesday night. Authorities said they were the only two people with serious injuries from the tornadoes that passed through the area.
Right after the tornado moved through, Ronny said he tried to call 911, but the line only rang and no one answered.
They returned to their farmstead Thursday morning in disbelief. Everything was either gone or smashed up against another surface. At least two semis and their trailers had been lifted and dropped like rag dolls, smashed against each other. Tractors, farm implements and other equipment were a tangled mess.
Ronny’s new Ford truck was totaled in what used to be his shop. Linda’s minivan had been lifted with the garage and smashed beyond recognition on the other side of the road in a huge pile of hay.
Every building except a small shed was destroyed — the farm house, garage, shop, machine shed and granaries. Their one cow suffered a broken hip or leg bone, but Ronny hasn’t been able to tend to the animal yet, so he wasn’t sure what was broken. The one fatality of the tornado was the couple’s larger dog, which somehow ended up in the basement with Ronny and Linda.
“We never thought this would happen,” Linda and Ronny said, nearly in unison.
The couple watched several tornadoes go through the area in the past, but never so close to the farmstead.
Dozens of family, friends and neighbors descended upon the Kopfman farm Thursday morning. Mostly they surveyed the damage to make plans for cleanup after insurance adjusters finished their work. Otherwise, volunteers searched for anything they could find from the house.
“This is a bad joke, but you’re not broke,” said one volunteer as he handed Ronny a plastic water bottle full of change.
Ronny and Linda had a 5-gallon jug full of change in their home before the tornado hit.
“I told you we should have cashed that in,” Ronny said to Linda.
Volunteers slowly found bits and pieces from the house — a picture here, a belt buckle there.
Jennifer Anderson, Ronny and Linda’s daughter, found her own wedding dress and her mother’s in some wreckage near the house.
The couple’s three children — Anderson, Jill Larson and Chad Kopfmann — were all at the farm Thursday along with Linda’s parents, who live in Huron, and additional family members.
Ronny formerly operated PK Construction and helped restore the community of Spencer, which was leveled by a tornado in 1998.
“I didn’t think it would happen here,” Ronny said, scanning a now decimated tree belt to the south of his porch. “Now I understand what they went through.”
He also helped rebuild and clean up in Alpena after a twister went through the area in 2003.
Ronny said he plans to retire from trucking now, rather than when he intended to retire in the near future. He’ll continue to farm and remain on the Jerauld County Commission.
Linda would like to rebuild at the farm, placing a house right up against the cement porch.
“We loved this million-dollar view,” Ronny said, looking out over a natural lake to the east of the house.
If the couple do rebuild, Ronny said he’d like to build a room in the basement with a cement floor and a cement ceiling for any future twisters.
The couple plan to stay in Huron until they find more permanent housing.