Environment | National

Native Sun News: High winds rip through Pine Ridge Reservation

The following story was written and reported by David Arredondo, Native Sun News Summer Journalism Intern. All content © Native Sun News.

James Hudson inspects the damage done by the high winds on Saturday, July 21, near the town of Oglala on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The trailer house was Marjorie Black Elk’s son’s and was moved off of its foundation. PHOTOS COURTESY/LENORA HUDSON

Cyclone winds rip through Oglala
Speculation about a tornado circulates
By David Arredondo
Native Sun News
Summer Journalism Intern

OGLALA, SOUTH DAKOTA –– On Saturday, July 21, several homes near Oglala on the Pine Ridge Reservation were damaged and destroyed during a severe thunderstorm that brought with it ferocious straight-line winds.

Several residents sustained injuries and were sent to the Pine Ridge Indian Health Services hospital. Telephone poles and power lines were knocked down and snapped, causing brief power outages throughout the Oglala District.

Witnesses are speculating that only a tornado could have caused the damage.

Straight-line winds, by definition, are able to cause significant damage, with wind speeds of up to 80 mph. According to a news release from Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele’s office, he “immediately activated emergency response teams to the location and an emergency meeting was held earlier tonight (July 22) at the Oglala District CAP Office to deal with the immediate needs of the families whose homes were destroyed.”

“After they have been situated, I will begin efforts to work with federal agencies such as FEMA and others to try to do what we can to stabilize the situation in Oglala,” Steele said in the release.

Dispossessed residents were temporarily relocated to the Prairie Wind Casino’s hotel, roughly 15 miles away from Oglala.

Marjorie Black Elk, 44, said her trailer house on Little’s Flat, just south of Oglala, was completely demolished by the winds. She wasn’t in her home at the time as she had taken refuge with her husband at a relative’s house after observing the cloud activity and the storm starting to pick up.

“(A neighbor) said he saw it being picked up and flipped over,” said Black Elk of her home. “When we got the news that our house was gone, it was really sad and really devastating.”

Her home was recently refurbished with new siding and paint. Also, this is the second time that a house she has lived in has been affected by a natural disaster. During June of 1999, the house she was living in was destroyed by a tornado.

Black Elk’s son next lives next door to her; his house was moved off of its foundation.

She says that while the Oglala Sioux Tribe is paying for a three-night stay at the Prairie Wind Casino, there are no immediate plans for housing after.

“What are we supposed to do after three days?” she said. “We don’t have any place to go.”

Floyd Brings Plenty, who works for the Oglala District, inspected damage on Lakeside Road and Little’s Flat on July 22 and said that it looks as though a tornado caused the damage, not straight-line winds.

With a shortage on housing, he said that it doesn’t seem likely that those affected will receive any significant help.

“There’s talk that straight-line winds reported by the National Weather Service means there is going to be no assistance,” said Brings Plenty. “If there was a tornado, then people would be eligible for disaster relief.”

But he remains adamant that there was a tornado based on the damage he’s seen.

“We’re going to have problems finding places for these people (to live),” Brings Plenty said.

Wayne Weston is the emergency manager for the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Weston could not be immediately contacted before deadline on July 23.

The Oglala District’s representative, Paul Little, also could not be immediately contacted.

According to Brings Plenty, tribal council members had a meeting July 23 to discuss the housing issue.

(Contact David Arredondo at layout@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News www.nsweekly.com

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