DELMONT, S.D. - There are mangled trees, houses destroyed and a 100-year-old Lutheran church has been cut in half.
Delmont, a town of fewer than 300 people, was hit hard by a tornado around 10:45 a.m. Sunday.
“It’s an awful, awful scene,” Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Sunday afternoon. “The damage here is very evident.”
State and local officials were working the scene shortly after the tornado, which scattered debris everywhere and damaged homes. As of Sunday night, there were nine confirmed injuries, one of them considered serious but none were life-threatening. Two of the injured people were still being treated Sunday night; one in Armour and another transported to Sioux Falls, according to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety.
The National Weather Service in Sioux Falls said Sunday the storm was an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale used for tornadoes, with peak winds of 130 mph and an estimated path 400 yards wide. Both public and weather officials made numerous comparisons, both strength and the type of damage, to the tornado that hit Wessington Springs last year in June.
On the edge of Delmont, Douglas County State's Attorney Craig Parkhurst told reporters 25 structures were destroyed, including Zion Lutheran Church and the town’s fire hall. Parkhurst, acting as the public information officer for the event, said there were no fatalities.
“Some of the damage was worse than I thought it was going to be,” Parkhurst said.
Because of the tornado, the town has no telephone, electric or water services.
‘Right in the middle of it’
Todd Gross, 46, who is on the Delmont City Council, had his house hit by the tornado.
“My house is in better shape than some, but we were right in the middle of it,” Gross said in a phone interview with The Daily Republic soon after the storm hit. “You can see I still have a house, but the attached garage is gone and the windows are broken out. It’s not good.”
Gross heard about the storm on TV and went outside to check it out. When he went for a walk, he could see debris swirling in the air and then went home to get his family to safety.
“You could hear it hit,” he said. “It went really fast. It was over within 15 to 30 seconds.”
Gross, who graduated from Delmont High School in 1988, said his family was OK.
“That was the first tornado I’ve ever been associated with and I don’t want to be with one ever again. It was scary,” he said. “We’ve got quite a cleanup.”
Scott Redd, a 1980 graduate of Delmont High School, was in Sioux Falls when the tornado hit. While watching radar, he saw the storm was heading toward the town in which his brother, Mike, and mother, Nola, live. When Redd, 52, arrived to the edge of town Sunday afternoon, officials had it blocked off to ensure safety.
“It’s hard to look at,” Redd said. “It’s a mess.”
Redd said the tornado cut a distinct path through town.
“We can see where it went,” Redd said.
Officials with the National Weather Service said the tornado started at 10:25 a.m. about 3 miles east of Wagner and ended 5 miles north of Delmont. The path was more than 17 miles and the tornado lasted for 30 minutes. With a peak wind speed estimated at 130 mph, the tornado was nearly an EF-3 tornado. The threshold for EF-3 tornadoes is 136 mph or higher.
‘I’m lucky to be here’
Scott Peters said he was within 10 feet of the tornado when it whipped through his yard. It spared the exterior of his home but the inside was shaken up, and a nearby shed was demolished.
"I was right by it,” he said. “It went right past my window and there was all sorts of debris wrapped up in it."
He lives at 101 N. Seaman, directly across from the Zion Lutheran Church, which was practically sawed in half.
"Some of my stuff is across town," he said. "But it didn't take much of the house. I guess that's the way it goes."
All of it is replaceable, he said.
“I'm lucky to be here and be standing here right now,” he said. “That's good enough for me."
Brent Loneman is a Delmont lifelong resident. He wasn't at home at the time of the storm and he was glad his wife and children were not home, either. The storm left very few clues that a trailer home previously sat on Loneman's lot.
"We'd all be dead," he said. "I'm sure of it."
Loneman said he was as surprised as anyone when he got the call regarding his home.
Officials asked all people to evacuate the town overnight. He said there are safety concerns, including downed power lines and possible propane leaks.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard was on-scene within a few hours, visiting with local officials and offering support. During a media briefing, Daugaard said he believed most people would stay with family and friends until they could return home.
During a community meeting Sunday night at the Tripp-Delmont High School gym, officials said residents would be allowed to return to Delmont today to collect their belongings but would have to check-in and wear a wristband. There was no word on when residents would be able to return permanently, as officials said those who come to Delmont today would have to leave by 8 p.m.
Another community meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. today at the Tripp-Delmont gym.
Mitchell, other areas hit hard with rain
In addition to the tornado that hit Delmont, other parts of the region witnessed funnel clouds and tornado threats.
In Hutchinson County, law enforcement reported a tornado on the ground 4 miles northwest of Dimock. That was documented at 11:15 a.m. Sunday.
Shortly before 7 p.m. Sunday, a trained spotter reported seeing a funnel cloud 7 miles southeast of Canova in McCook County. According to the National Weather Service, the spotter reported seeing the funnel cloud come “about halfway down to the ground” before it went back up into the cloud.
Mitchell received a substantial amount of rain as the storm moved north, but officials said there was no damage in the city. Local dispatch reported only a tree down and flooding in Mitchell.
Davison County Emergency Management Director Jeff Bathke said trained spotters were called out to spy on the skies Sunday but didn’t confirm any tornadoes.
“I really think we dodged a bullet with the weather,” he said. “The way those clouds were moving, it just seemed to be calling for a tornado.”
Sanborn County was also in a tornado warning Sunday afternoon, but officials said there were rotating clouds and heavy rains, but no confirmed tornadoes in the county.
Luke Hagen contributed to this report.