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Monke: A night we’ll never forget

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opinion Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Five years ago tonight, I got a glimpse of what war zone photographers must go through.

Chaos, despair, anguish and heartache for others. I saw it all on July 8, 2009, as I traversed the streets of south Dickinson with my Nikon camera and a pair of lenses.

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I didn’t typically work Wednesdays when I was the sports editor, but I was at The Press the night an EF-3 tornado hit the south side of town.

When the storm moved through and blacked out the sky, we knew there was likely to be damage somewhere. So, a handful of us left the office and headed southeast in former Managing Editor Jennifer McBride’s Jeep. It was still raining and we couldn’t see much other than trees strewn about — until we reached Third Avenue Southwest. There, we saw the extent of the damage.

People had lost everything. Homes looked as if they’d exploded into the streets. We did everything we could to gather information and stories for our website, uncertain if we’d actually produce a physical newspaper since the power was out in our section of town. (For the record, The Press had a paper the next day, though it got out extremely late.)

Armed with my camera, I went as far as I could and documented as much damage as I could.

Eventually, I heard that the tornado had hit the Consolidated building. Thinking the worst, I raced there on foot to find it structurally sound but the neighboring Legend Auto Body building in ruins. I stayed on foot until about 1 a.m., taking as many photographs as I could.

I met a multitude of people that night, those whose lives had been changed forever and those who were uncertain if they’d ever live in their homes again. Some rebuilt, others moved across town and some left Dickinson for good.

Though the worst happened to some, the city took solace knowing that the catastrophe caused no major injuries or deaths.

The sun came up the next morning and life eventually moved on. But few of us who experienced that night — especially those who lived through it to tell their stories — will ever forget it.

Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at dmonke@thedickinsonpress.com, tweet him at monkebusiness and read his past columns and features at monke.areavoices.com.

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