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Gary Von Eye carries a black bag of debris during cleanup efforts on Sunday in Wessington Springs. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)

Wessington Springs cleanup continues; volunteers welcome

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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

WESSINGTON SPRINGS -- Gary Von Eye started in on the field of knee-high grasses, with errant shingles and insulation in front of him. In the distance, there was still tin from a building, hanging in a tree 15 feet in the air.

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"This is a mess," he said, in the field across from the Wessington Springs Elementary School.

But he felt compelled, along with his wife Dianne and daughter Rebecca, to help out.

"We would want help if something ever happened to us," he said, adding that his home on the north edge of town was unaffected.

It was like that all over Wessington Springs over the weekend, with piles of debris continuing to get smaller, while an effort to get back to normal is now fully underway. Community leaders are also placing a focus on youth events -- like baseball, softball and the children's music program -- which will go on as normal this week.

"We need to let them be kids," said Wessington Springs Mayor Melissa Mebius on Saturday. "We want to get as many things back to normal as we can."

South Dakota National Guard forces in the city have been trimmed in size and American Red Cross meals will be discontinued today at noon. Meetings will be held with state officials this week regarding long-term issues, such as housing for displaced residents and additional aid.

"We're going to be getting around the table and finding out what we can do, as far as figuring out something for those with heavy damage," Mebius said, regarding long-term housing.

The Jerauld County Commissioners will meet today at 9 a.m., and are expected to approve an emergency disaster declaration to allow the state to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding. The city of Wessington Springs and its city council has already made its declaration.

More than 80 percent of the community has power now and more than 30 electricians were in the city over the weekend stringing up new power poles on the southeast side of the city, where the F2 tornado struck Wednesday night.

Free tetanus clinics were also emphasized, as the risks from being injured by nails increased.

"If you can't remember the last time you had a tetanus shot, it's probably time to get one," said Tom Dean, a family physician at Jerauld County Community Health Center.

Donations flow into Springs

The American Red Cross reports that more than 11,000 bottles of water and nearly 4,000 meals have been served in Wessington Springs through Saturday.

"We've been working pretty much 24/7," said Dana Bischke, of Bismarck, N.D.

Along with her husband, Gene, they've helped facilitate meals and drinks. On Sunday afternoon, Terry Askin, of Fargo, N.D., was loading up one of the Red Cross' Disaster Relief Vehicles to carry water and snacks to workers in impacted areas.

Outside donations have also made an impact.

A group from near St. Cloud, Minn., brought 96 cases of water and supplies like contractor-sized trash bags to the Wessington Springs fire hall Saturday. Volunteers at the elementary school took inventory of donations, which now fill tables in the lunch room. Bikers from the Mitchell area organized a ride to Wessington Springs Sunday and made a monetary donation in person to those providing relief.

Mebius said Sunday that the community does not need clothing donations at this time and said cash donations remain the best way to help.

Faith holds tight

On Sunday, the town held a community church service at the United Methodist Church.

Local resident Hub Kieser delivered the message and related the tests of the past week to restoring a tractor.

"We have a community to restore," he said. "And we probably have a little bit of our faith in our souls to restore."

He said that like restoring a tractor, the rebuilding process of the community will likely be frustrating but rewarding.

"We're going to be restoring a lot of lives, a lot of homes. We'll shoot for perfection. We won't reach it. But it's a good goal," Kieser said.

Community members spoke during the service, adding that they were thankful that nobody was seriously hurt in the tornado and how the community has shown unity.

"I don't believe it was God's will that we had a tornado come through town but it was God's will to have a safe place for us and to put the right people in the right places to guide us and help us through it," Kieser said.

To help

• Cash donations remain the best way to help the victims of the Wessington Springs tornado. Donations can be sent to American Bank and Trust, P.O. Box 469, Wessington Springs, S.D., 57382. Checks should be made out to "Wessington Springs Tornado Relief." You can also make donations by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or at redcross.org and designating your donations to Wessington Springs.

• A volunteer center is now open in Wessington Springs and will assign volunteers to sites needing cleanup assistance. They can register to volunteer starting today at 8 a.m. at the Wessington Springs Elementary School, 904 Second St. NE. The most convenient access to the elementary school is into town on 383rd Avenue from Highway 34 and then west on Second Street Northeast. Volunteers are asked to bring their own gloves, sun screen and rakes, and wear appropriate clothing such as pants and hard sole shoes. Those under the age of 18 should be accompanied by an adult supervisor able to work alongside the youth volunteers.

• Residents affected by the tornado are invited to St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Wessington Springs on Monday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Tuesday through Thursday from 1 to 8 p.m. A recovery center will be set up with resources to assist those who need help following the storm.

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