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'It wasn't a tornado, but it might as well have been'

SPRINGFIELD -- In only two minutes, Mike Scheetz's home was nearly leveled. In the early morning hours Monday, Scheetz said he was laying on the couch watching TV when he heard the whistle of wind, windows shattering and debris flying. His wife, ...

A man attends to damaged property following Monday morning's storm in Springfield that destroyed four homes, damaged 12 others and displaced 70 people. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
A man attends to damaged property following Monday morning's storm in Springfield that destroyed four homes, damaged 12 others and displaced 70 people. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

SPRINGFIELD - In only two minutes, Mike Scheetz's home was nearly leveled.

In the early morning hours Monday, Scheetz said he was laying on the couch watching TV when he heard the whistle of wind, windows shattering and debris flying. His wife, Deb, was in bed and didn't have time to get up. Neither made it to the basement.

"Then 'Bam.' That quick, it was over," Scheetz said. "It was two minutes or less, I'm sure. The garage is gone - I don't even know where the pieces are."

In two minutes time, the home he had lived in for 31 years was destroyed.

According to the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, straight-line winds reaching 110 mph during an overnight storm pummeled Springfield, destroying four homes and "severely damaging" 12 others, leaving 70 people displaced. The storm ravaged the southeast section of town, uprooting trees, downing power lines and damaging roofs, but left the rest of the town relatively unscathed.

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The storm rolled through the area around 12:15 a.m. Monday.

No serious injuries were reported, but the Bon Homme County Sheriff's Office said some residents sustained minor injuries.

Northwestern Energy is working to restore power to homes on the south side of Springfield. Several streets are closed and access to the most significantly affected area is being restricted.

Scheetz said many of his personal belongings that were inside of his home are likely salvageable, but his home - with its roof caved in and damaged exterior-isn't.

The ideal situation moving forward, Scheetz said, is to raze what remains of the home if his insurance company deems it is, in fact, a total loss. Then, Scheetz hoped, it could be replaced with a Governor's House, built at the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield.

And for Scheetz, the sentimental value of the loss cuts deeper than the confusion of not knowing what comes next.

"Our oldest boy was born here and he spent his whole life here, so it's hard," Scheetz said. "It's gone, but hopefully we can save what we've got and find a way to move forward."

The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter around 1 a.m. at the Springfield Elementary School, and two people utilized the shelter overnight. Some Red Cross volunteers live in Springfield and were able to respond immediately.

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Ray Sorensen, with the Red Cross, said it is not expected people will continue to use the emergency shelter after Monday.

The Red Cross also served meals throughout the day and provided snacks and water to volunteers, residents and officials.

The Red Cross is planning to open a Multi-Agency Recovery Center on Wednesday or Thursday as a place where local agencies can come together to assist those affected by the storm by providing assistance with casework and recovery planning, Sorenson said.

Officials also said the roof at the water treatment plant in Springfield was damaged, but no other information was immediately available.

Todd Heitkamp, warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS, said no warnings were issued for the storm, but it wouldn't have made much of a difference.

If any kind of warning had been issued, it would have been a severe thunderstorm warning, and Heitkamp said many people wouldn't have received the warning due to the late hour and the speed at which the storm intensified as it crossed the Missouri River and descended on Springfield.

But, he said, the incident does serve as a strong reminder to pay attention to the weather, and because the string of cells that moved across the region Sunday night and Monday morning, he's surprised the damage isn't worse. Due to warm, muggy conditions, Heitkamp said more severe weather is possible as the week progresses.

The Springfield storm doesn't classify as a "disaster," according to Heitkamp, though it doesn't discredit the extent of the damage.

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"This is not truly a disaster, but it's a disaster for a few," Heitkamp said. "But that does not minimize the effect of this storm. Damage is damage, regardless of what caused it. More severe weather is possible later (Monday) and into the week, so people need to be aware of that."

More than 350 volunteers were in Springfield Monday helping residents clean up debris and assess damage.

Michael Schnetzer, a volunteer who lives northeast of Springfield, said he couldn't believe the extent of the damage.

"It wasn't a tornado, but it might as well have been," he said. "I couldn't believe how bad it was when I got into town."

After he found a babysitter for his kids, Schnetzer drove into town, found a lot that looked like it needed help and got to work. For him, the help is simply a matter of "doing what South Dakotans do."

The four-year Springfield resident said about two years ago there was a grass fire at his home and the overwhelming support he received from his then-new neighbors was humbling.

"The way people were more than willing to come out and help, it's kind of cheesy and corny, but they came out and didn't want anything for it, so it's my chance to repay my debt," Schnetzer said.

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