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From left, Jacob Nichols, 13, Tye Jantz, 12, and Joel Penner, 13, all from Iroquois, throw debris on a wood pile during the cleanup effort Friday afternoon at the farm of Chad and Sara Thompson west of Wessington Springs. The farm was hit by a tornado Wednesday evening. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

Dozens of helpers converge on tornado-stricken farm

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WESSINGTON SPRINGS -- Chad and Sara Thompson had a lot of visitors Friday.

Nearly 50 volunteers were on the Thompson farm, located about 11 miles west of Wessington Springs, to help the family pick up the scattered debris across their expansive property.

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A tornado cut through their farm yard Wednesday night, destroying four buildings and damaging multiple belts of trees.

But there was very minimal exterior damage to the house -- not even a broken window -- and Sara and the family's three boys were safe in the basement as the storm passed by. Chad was on his way back from Mitchell but could hardly get in the driveway when he returned home, because of debris in the roadway.

The tornado left a path of damage that sliced through their farm from west to east, heavily damaging a pair of tree lines and cattle fencing. The storm took a shed of about 80 by 120 feet, a barn and two outbuildings.

When the Thompsons needed help, they got it. Some neighbors were on hand to pitch in and about 30 members of the Faith Mennonite Church north of Iroquois came to help.

"I don't know them really," said Greg Penner with a laugh when he was asked about helping the Thompsons. "My dad told me about it and we all came down."

Volunteers were stretched across the farm, picking up pieces of metal and hauling debris to piles. Others helped find animals in the feedlot on Thursday, and on Friday, a canopy was being set up to serve a noon meal to volunteers.

Grateful didn't seem to adequately describe the Thompsons.

"I don't even know where to start thanking people," Chad said. "There's been so many people here the last two days, including people we don't even know. I guess that's why we live where we live."

"We didn't ask for any of this," Sara said. "We're so thankful."

The family could hear the storm outside the basement window Wednesday night, as kids ages 18 months and 5 and 7 years old waited it out.

"It was like a really high-pitched squeal," Sara said. "We started hearing the banging and the bellering and then my kids started screaming."

Neither could believe that the house was safe, while a tree marking the center of the yard just 20 feet off the house's porch was heavily damaged, stripped of branches and leaves.

"It was just so close," Sara said.

"Everyone was safe and that's a blessing," Chad said. "It just did the damage around the house and we're just really lucky."

Of the roughly 450 cattle on the farm, Chad said about 10 or 12 died in the storm. Some of the dead animals were taken to a local locker in time to be butchered and frozen.

"So we've got some meat and we know there's some people in town that are going to need it," Chad said. "The cattle are what keep us going out here."

As they listened to insurance company employees explain what's next, the Thompsons realized they still have much to do. For now, they've got plenty of help.

"It means so much," Sara said, fighting back tears. "Pretty amazing."

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