Watford City starts cleanup after deadly tornado
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — On Wednesday, July 11, more than 24 hours after a deadly EF-2 tornado touched down in Watford City, work was already well underway to clean up the trail of destruction the storm left behind.
The tornado hit the Prairie View RV Park early Tuesday morning and destroyed or damaged more than 200 trailers, RVs and manufactured homes. A 6-day-old baby died from injuries sustained in the tornado and nearly 30 people were injured, some of them critically.
On Wednesday afternoon, workers — many of them volunteers from local oil companies — and residents were at the park clearing piles of debris. Front-end loaders carried buckets full of insulation, wood, metal and other building material to waiting trucks to be hauled to the county landfill.
At some lots, residents sorted through the heaps of material, searching for personal possessions.
One resident, Charles Bergan, flagged down McKenzie County Emergency Services Director Karolin Joppa as she drove through the park. He was concerned that his trailer would be torn down before his insurance company could inspect the damage. An adjuster wasn't scheduled to arrive until Friday, he told her.
Joppa assured him she would talk to someone and make sure it wasn't removed until his insurance company looked at it.
"I'm going to take care of it," she said.
Much of Joppa's day was spent taking care of things. She said she sees that as her job — connecting people who need something with resources to get them help.
After she assured Bergan that she would handle his request, she told him about another resource — a Multi-Agency Resource Center scheduled for 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today.
The event, set up by the Red Cross, will give people affected by the tornado a chance to learn about recovery resources from the American Red Cross, and other non-profit, community and government partners.
"Residents of Watford City have been through a lot in the last 24 hours and we want to make the recovery process as easy as possible," Executive Director Rob Stotz said in a news release. "The (Multi-Agency Resource Center) is a one-stop shop for resources and information so people can be in control of their own recovery process."
The event is at the Watford City Civic Center, which is also the location of the Red Cross' emergency shelter.
According to the Red Cross, 60 people spent the night at the shelter on Tuesday.
It wasn't clear on Wednesday afternoon if anyone would be able to return to Prairie View that evening.
McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger said that would depend on how much cleanup was done that day.
In addition to directing people to the event today, Joppa set up an account at Cornerstone Bank. People can donate by contacting the bank and asking to give to the Watford City tornado account.
Her plan for the money is the same as what the county did in 2014, when 13 families were displaced by a tornado. After money is collected, it will be turned over to Lutheran Social Services, which will talk with the people affected and distribute the money based on need.
Another fundraising effort is also underway, this one for the family of Blake Maguire, the 6-day-old infant who was killed in the tornado. A family friend has set up a GoFundMe account.
Joppa said in addition to the fundraiser for those affected by the tornado, she reaches out to everyone and tries to stay in contact to offer any help she can.
"I shadow these families, because it's devastating," she said.
Joppa is also thinking about what needs to be done in the future to help give more warning about dangerous storms. One possibility is installing a radar station somewhere in the northwest part of the state.
Right now the two closest radar stations are in Minot and Glasgow, Montana. Having one closer to Watford might help give more warning about dangerous weather, she said.
"We need to fix the problem," she said.
The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning about 65 minutes before the tornado hit, and that did mention the possibility of a tornado, according to Ken Simosko, a forecaster with the NWS office in Bismarck.
Weather radar doesn't see well below about 10,000 feet, Simosko said, so forecasters also have to rely on spotters. It's especially difficult in cases like Tuesday's tornado, which was embedded in a line of damaging thunderstorms.
People need to be aware of the danger of severe thunderstorms.
"Every thunderstorm has the potential to create a tornado," he said.
He recommended buying a NOAA weather radio, which can usually be found for between $20 and $30, so people can be alerted more quickly.
"It's almost like someone coming and knocking on your door," he said.