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Delmont's year of healing

DELMONT--Michael Williams gathered the courage to peek up from his hiding spot, just as winds forced his home off of its base. He watched as his furnace, belongings and even himself were flung around the basement of his Delmont house. He watched ...

On May 10 it will be one year since a tornado came through and hit the west end of the town of Delmont. The damage from the tornado caused damage to many homes and left debris across town. While some homes have been rebuilt, completely replaced and some are still having work done, others have been completely removed and lots sit empty. On Tuesday the residents of the town will be holding several activities to mark the one year anniversary of the tornado. (Republic photo illustration)
On May 10 it will be one year since a tornado came through and hit the west end of the town of Delmont. The damage from the tornado caused damage to many homes and left debris across town. While some homes have been rebuilt, completely replaced and some are still having work done, others have been completely removed and lots sit empty. On Tuesday the residents of the town will be holding several activities to mark the one year anniversary of the tornado. (Republic photo illustration)

DELMONT-Michael Williams gathered the courage to peek up from his hiding spot, just as winds forced his home off of its base.

He watched as his furnace, belongings and even himself were flung around the basement of his Delmont house. He watched as a tornado ripped apart his home on the morning of May 10, 2015-Mother's Day. On Tuesday, it's been one year since the destruction hit Delmont.

All he remembers is six seconds. But, a year later, he remembers them vividly.

"(Rescuers) put a ladder down, got me out of the debris that was all around, and they basically told me, 'Michael, do not look back. Just keep your head on the ground and we're taking you to get some help because it looks like your arm is badly injured,' " Williams said.

The force of the wind had thrown Williams against a wall, briefly knocking him unconscious, and threw wooden pallets on top of his body. The pallets were littered with debris and didn't shelter Williams from heavy blocks that fell on top, crushing his left shoulder, but were enough to anchor him in place.

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Williams believes without the pallets, the wind could potentially have blown him away like it did the majority of his belongings.

Bloodied and unable to lift his arm, Williams was loaded into a vehicle and taken to the west end of town where a South Dakota Highway Patrolman was waiting to transport him to the hospital.

"I remember, on the way, kind of glancing up, but I really couldn't talk," Williams said. "I was looking, I see, I hear ... but I was in shock because five minutes earlier everything was normal."

About 2 miles outside of Delmont, the patrolman transporting Williams met an ambulance, where Williams made another vehicle change, and was taken to Armour.

Though some of the cuts were extensive, none required stitches, and Williams wears the scars like a badge of honor.

The main concern for doctors at the time was elevated heart enzyme levels, Williams said, which acted like an extreme adrenaline rush, putting him at heightened risk for a heart attack. So he was admitted and monitored overnight. Williams is one of nine people reported injured in the storm.

"Everyone told me 'Williams I don't know how you made it, you should be dead,' " he said. "It was that unbelievable."

The day after the tornado hit and once Williams was released from the hospital, he and his family returned to where his home used to be. The only recognizable object to Williams was a perfectly intact case of water, which had flown 30 feet across the room and was sitting directly to the side of where Williams was found.

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"It's like somebody just took it and placed it there and left me a message that, 'You know, I saved you one more time,' " Williams said.

And, while the physical damage was extensive, and Williams has yet to feel 100 percent healed, the emotional impact cut much deeper.

In the past year, Williams said he has begun visiting a counselor in an attempt to make sense of the overwhelming emotions he was experiencing, and continues to experience. Through his counseling, he learned that when a person goes through a traumatic event, it can take months or years for the mind to "reboot" and snap out of shock, Williams said, citing his counselor.

Regardless of the emotional or physical terror instigated in just a handful of seconds, but with a lifelong impact, Williams, who prior to the tornado split his time between his homes in Delmont and Sioux Falls, said he will always consider the smaller of the two towns home.

"I'm not even going to hesitate going back to Delmont," Williams said. "That's where I was born and raised, that's where I graduated school. It doesn't mean I have to live there, but, like that tornado now, it's kind of just part of who I am."

'I just hollered'

Following the death of her husband in February 2015, Lori Bueber was thinking about downsizing.

When the May 10 tornado leveled her home, the decision was made, but not in the way she was envisioning.

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The 23-year resident of Delmont was left with nothing except her health-though even that, for a while, was in question.

As she was walking in her front door, returning home from church services, Bueber heard her weather radio alerting her of the approaching tornado. So, Bueber changed out of her church clothes, fielded a phone call from her stepdaughter urging her to retreat to the basement and began down the steps.

"I got four steps down and all of a sudden, I'm (blown) under the steps. My house, I looked up, and it was all gone," Bueber said. "We laughed because my (late) husband's daughter said later, 'He pushed you under the steps,' and I'm sure he did," Bueber said. "He was probably saying 'What are you just standing there for?' Where I ended up in that basement saved my life."

At the time, Bueber was covered from the shoulders down in debris, unable to free herself.

"I was going to try wiggling out, but I couldn't see behind me, so I didn't know if there was something that was big behind me that could fall on me," Bueber said. "So I just hollered."

She remained trapped for about five minutes, with a handful of people who walked past unable to hear or see her. Finally, two high school-aged boys heard her yelling for help, but they, too, couldn't figure out where Bueber was buried. Eventually, the pair found Bueber and dug her out. It was then that she was hit with the force and intensity of the extent of the damage.

She was taken to the hospital in Armour, where she was treated for minor cuts and bruises, and released approximately two hours later.

"I got out on the street and I looked around and I thought 'Oh my goodness, I don't have anything left,' " Bueber said. "If people wouldn't have came and helped me, I think I would have bawled and turned around and left because it was so overwhelming."

But Bueber had all of the help she needed, with a dozen of her extended family members present to help in the cleanup process, and she never left Delmont. Instead, she temporarily rented a home until her house, through the Governor's House program, arrived on Dec. 21. The Governor's House program was created in 1996 to provide reasonably sized, affordable homes to income-qualified individuals and families in South Dakota.

Her new home is smaller than the last-downsized more in line with how Bueber was originally imagining.

'Like nothing I had ever seen before'

Delmont Mayor Mae Gunnare has said 44 houses were destroyed in the storm, and many families elected not to rebuild, instead leaving town. The ones who did stay are still dealing with the emotional damage left behind.

A celebration of the one-year anniversary of the tornado is scheduled for Tuesday, with events like a moment of silence at 10:45 a.m., commemorating the time the tornado struck town, counselors and therapy dogs, a tornado alley walk and inflatable bouncy houses for kids. Several community members have applauded the town's efforts to bring unity to the town.

But Lynn and Dave Chambers, who own a home across the street from the old Delmont school, as well as the school itself, don't plan to attend.

"I don't do well in the big groups," Lynn said. "There are some things that just are triggers, and that's one of them for me. I'm not even sad, I just cry."

That doesn't mean the Chambers aren't thankful for the attempt to gain normalcy and bring unity to the torn town now that the dust has settled.

The couple openly attributed much of their block's ability to remain relatively unscathed from the tornado, compared to the houses roughly 100 yards away, to the school, which they say served as a windblock. The school, which Chambers said was sold to them in part because previous owners feared the building couldn't withstand 60 mph winds, was almost completely unharmed, receiving minimal damage on and around the roof area.

"It's like the thing just went around the school and skipped over our block," Chambers said.

And she nearly watched the tornado do so.

She was stuck in a daze, watching the funnel approach from a window in her house, when she suddenly realized it was headed directly for her. Chambers, who has received emergency situation training, cracked the window, in turn relieving some of the pressure created when the tornado's strong winds struck her home. Chambers said her insurance company credits that one, simple action, to the minimal damage the house sustained-mostly broken windows.

"I'm from Nebraska, so I've sat and watched tornados before," Chambers said. "But this was like nothing I had ever seen before."

If given the chance, Chambers said she'd watch another-from a distance.

Tuesday's events

Tuesday's one-year anniversary events are as follows, and will be held at Twin Rivers Old Iron Farm, unless otherwise noted: • 10:45 a.m.: Moment of silence as bells are rung at Hope Lutheran Church; • 1 p.m. - 3 p.m.: Open house at Delmont Community Center and Delmont Fire Station with a video and slideshows showing the resiliency of the town; • 4 p.m. - 7 p.m.: Red Cross Activity for children, bouncy house, obstacle course, therapy dogs, LSS therapists; • 4 - 6:30 p.m.: Tornado Alley Walk beginning at the baseball field; • 5 p.m.: Meal prayer from Pastor Barry Nelson; • 5 - 7 p.m.: Music by Roy King and Company and supper sponsored by Delmont First State and Bank West; • 7 p.m. Program with presentations from Mayor Mae Gunnare, Douglas County Emergency Manager Pat Harrington and Lisa Adler, with the South Dakota Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster; • 7 p.m.: Delmont Community Watch drawing, drawing for Grand Falls Casino outing and a closing prayer will follow from Pastor Brian Bucklew at the Zion Lutheran Church building site.

Weather permitting, events could be moved to the Legion Hall, but will be announced on local radio stations if needed.

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