Gov. Kristi Noem and South Dakota Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price were among state officials who toured the community of Burke Wednesday afternoon following a destructive storm that damaged or destroyed businesses, trees, homes and other structures throughout the town Tuesday night and pledged the state would do whatever it could to speed the recovery efforts.
The town was hit by sustained winds up to 100 mph and a reported tornado touch down near the center of town, causing extensive damage to community institutions like the Burke Civic Center and Burke School District, among others.
Noem said the damage was astonishing, but the public response to the disaster was heartening.
“This was a community that was devastated last night by the weather that hit. They had potentially 110 miles-per-hour winds, an F1 tornado and baseball-sized hail. So they have been devastated by the damage that they’ve seen to their school, the civic center and to so many homes and trees that have gone down,” Noem said. “But I’m so proud of them. They’re out and very well-organized and coordinating with the state, and I know that they’ll be strong getting through this difficult situation.”
The state would help coordinate to bring whatever aid they could, either through emergency management services or in applying for federal aid.
“We step in and cooperate with the local community and with the local emergency management director in this county, but also the mayor and city council. We visited with them today and worked with the volunteer firefighters to make sure they have the resources they need,” Noem said. “What’s interesting about this community is that they have gone through five disasters already this year. So we will submit an application that probably consolidates those disasters to help them qualify for federal dollars. There’s also a separate fund that partners with the community to come in and help them recover.”
Price said the state has been an on-scene part of the recovery process since the morning after the storm hit. That attention will continue as the cleanup progresses beyond the initial phase, he said.
“Right away this morning we had troopers who were on the scene assessing the damage, walking around and making sure people were safe and that people are accounted for. In the followup there will be needs that the community has that we’ll work through our office of emergency management with the local authorities in that regard, and we’ll make sure that the requests they have are filled to the best of our ability,” Price said.
Noem said members of the community and neighboring communities have already taken big steps toward getting the town back on its feet.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a community come out and get so quickly organized and immediately make so much progress in their recovery. Their volunteer firefighter team and the community members are out helping their neighbors. We’ve even had some visiting volleyball teams and basketball teams come over from other communities and help clean up for families,” Noem said. “This is one of those instances where we realize how special it is to live in South Dakota. People take care of each other.”
It’s been a long year, Noem said, but that spirit of cooperation will help guide everyone in their recovery efforts.
“The fact that everybody is still optimistic and helping each other is a real testimony to the South Dakota spirit,” Noem said.
Speaking to the Mitchell Rotary Club, U.S. Sen. John Thune reported about his visit to Burke earlier on Thursday. He said the damage "breaks your heart," most especially for the Burke school building.
"They're going to have a really interesting year to figure out how to educate the students and get them opportunities," he said. "The rebuilding will have to happen, and that's going to take a ton of time, ton of resources and dedication and determination, which I think they have."