“It was all just a couple seconds of complete terror.”That’s how Craig Heumiller, an employee at Basin Electric’s Crow Lake Wind Project, described the tornado that ripped through Wessington Springs, SD, directly affecting him and his family.
Heumiller and his family were not injured. Their house, which they had lived in for only six weeks and made one house payment on, was damaged. Three of the four garage walls were torn off, their cars were damaged, and the sub-floor and roof of the house were lifted.
Heumiller was told his house is “repairable,” but he’s still waiting to find out exactly what that means. His insurance company and a structural engineer will further assess the damage to define that. In the meantime, he and his family are staying in a friend’s camper and have found a furnished house to live in for a few months.
Watching the tornado from afar
Heumiller was in a neighboring town when his wife called to tell him about the storms. As he drove back to Wessington Springs, he watched the tornado descend upon his community.
“It first passed Wessington Springs, then backed up and headed straight for town,” he says. “I just had to stay back and wait for it to pass.” Once it did, Heumiller followed a cop into town and went straight home.
He pulled into the driveway as his wife and kids, ages 1 and 2, walked out of their house. They waited out the tornado in their basement. His wife listened to the radio for updates. His 1-year-old son slept through everything, and his daughter was just “frozen” – she didn’t cry or say anything. According to his wife, the tornado sounded like a really loud car wash.
Thanks to advanced warning – the community had about a one hour warning – there was only one minor injury. During that warning, volunteer firemen went from house to house to help elderly residents into their basements.
Assessing the damage
Within two hours after the tornado, the volunteer firemen went to all houses and had everyone accounted for. “They did an awesome job,” Heumiller says.
The South Dakota National Guard arrived later that night and volunteers poured into town to help with clean up.
“It (the tornado) was unbelievable,” Heumiller says. “Five to six days after the tornado, my neighbor still can’t find the large garage door for his 40-foot-by-60-foot shop, and two-story houses now look like doll houses; one side is torn off and you can look right in them.”
Overall, Heumiller feels fortunate, as some residents lost everything.
A local highway patrolman who moved into Wessington Springs shortly after Craig and his family moved to town can’t find his house. “The fact that he doesn’t know where his house is and doesn’t have anything left, zero. It’s unfortunate.”
Basin Electric donated $2,500 to the Wessington Springs Tornado Relief Fund.