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Governor praises progress in Springs

Gov. Dennis Daugaard hosts a press conference Thursday morning inside the fire hall at Wessington Springs. (Sean Ryan/Republic)1 / 3
Gov. Dennis Daugaard hosts a press conference Thursday morning inside the fire hall at Wessington Springs. (Sean Ryan/Republic)2 / 3
Gov. Dennis Daugaard hosts a press conference Thursday morning inside the fire hall at Wessington Springs. (Sean Ryan/Republic)3 / 3

WESSINGTON SPRINGS -- Gov. Dennis Daugaard returned to Wessington Springs Thursday to note the progress made in the tornado-stricken town and offer support for the town as it looks toward the future.

During a press conference inside the town fire hall, Daugaard spoke about how far the community has come in the last week, since a June 18 tornado damaged more than 40 houses on the south and east sides of the town. He said there is no comparison between the night the storm hit and where it stands today, with some lots cleaned completely and demolition already underway.

"When we left (last week), there was debris scattered everywhere," he said. "In the parks, in the cemetery, in fields around Wessington Springs. In many of those public areas, much of that debris is gone and you can't tell that the tornado was here at all."

"I'm grateful to volunteers who helped clean up and restore Wessington Springs to be that neat community it's always been."

The governor said he was impressed with the way members of the community have lifted each other up during this difficult time.

"I am hearing people talk about others before themselves," he said. "That again, is a mark of character.

Donations have given the community a big assist since last week's storm.

Springs Mayor Melissa Mebius said Thursday that about $45,000 has been raised for victims of the tornado through the funds set up for victims. Community groups have served 7,000 meals since the storm hit and 23,000 drinks, as of Thursday morning, according to Summer Geraets of the American Red Cross Dakota Plains chapter.

"I've said it time and time again this week but I'm extremely proud to be the mayor of Wessington Springs," Mebius said.

Daugaard said he urges residents to refrain from donating in-kind items such as clothing and housewares because the community has become inundated with those materials and no longer has the storage.

"Donations of dollars can help a family make up a deductible when it comes to insurance," he said. "And we know there were families that did not have insurance"

Twenty inmates from the Department of Corrections were being brought to Wessington Springs on Thursday to sort through the items already brought to the elementary school.

State help has also included representatives of the Department of Insurance, who help homeowners understand their insurance policies, and the South Dakota Housing Authority, which helps residents look into low-interest loan opportunities.

From a long-term housing standpoint, Daugaard said he will push the Governor's House program for residents of Wessington Springs that qualify. Those homes, which are available to low income residents, start at $39,800 for a two-bedroom home.

"They are very high quality homes," he said, adding that he's made the home program an emphasis in his tenure as governor, pushing for stronger doors and windows and better ventilation.

He added that a South Dakota modular home builder has offered its structures to Wessington Springs residents at a reduced rate but acknowledged that residents will have a tough decision to make in whether or not to fix their homes or rebuild from scratch.

"I know that many people here are displaced from their homes," he said. "But even in the face of that damage, you see still see great resilience."

On a federal level, Daugaard said he has tried to combine some of the natural disasters to occur last week into the same request for disaster funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That's because the common threshold for federal aid regarding assisting private residences is 100 impacted homes, a mark Wessington Springs alone does not reach. He said he hopes that by combining the flood damage in the southeastern part of the state with the other impacted areas, the chance for private residence aid will be higher.

"We're not looking at $10 and $20 and $30,000," Daugaard said. "We're looking at, on average, $2,000 or $3,000, and maybe not even that. It's something. Everything helps."