State officials tour tornado impact area
By Neal A. Shipman
A delegation of North Dakota state officials, including Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley, as well as officials from the North Dakota National Guard and the North Dakota Homeland Security, flew into Watford City last Friday morning to see firsthand the damage caused by the F2 tornado that destroyed Raley RV Park south of the city on Memorial Day evening.
As they viewed the remnants of the 12 to 15 campers and a dozen or so motor vehicles that had been totaled as a result of the twister and the 120 mph winds that accompanied the storm, Wrigley questioned why there were no community shelters in the vicinity of the RV park that would have provided shelter for residents.
“There are federal dollars available that would have helped provide shelters for people that need it during storms like this,” stated Wrigley. “We, the state, want to be able to offer any assistance that we can to help in the recovery and clean-up efforts.”
But according to Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, the tornado struck so quickly that people living in the RV park had no time to react.
But still, according to Sanford, the city would not have any objections if the state required that owners of work force housing camps, such as Raley RV Park were to be required to have shelters on site.
“It is the state’s responsibility if it wants to require shelters in these types of camps,” said Sanford. “The state is responsible for licensing and monitoring them.”
For Tony Beyda, who had been living in the RV park for about four weeks, he told Wrigley that a shelter would have saved him from some of the injuries, including a severe laceration to the scalp that required several stitches, which he sustained in the tornado.
“I was making a tuna fish sandwich when my phone alerted to me a tornado,” stated Beyda. “I looked out the window and saw it coming. All I could do was hunker down and wonder where I was going to go?”
For Beyda, the tornado hit so quickly that he wasn’t able to get out of his camper.
“I don’t know what hit me,” Beyda told Wrigley. “There was all kinds of debris flying around. It could have been my clothes dryer or part of the wall. I don’t know. It all happened so fast.”
As Wrigley stood looking at the devastation in the RV park, he noted just how fortunate it was that the tornado only hit that particular spot and missed so many other work force sites within close proximity to Raley RV Park. Within a mile of the tornado impact area, there are at least five other man camp locations, including the Indoor RV Park, as well as an oil well location and a gas plant.
“There really needs to be discussion on sheltering requirements,” stated Wrigley. “No housing can withstand a tornado. And with the federal cost-sharing that is available for these shelters, there just has to be a robust dialogue about it.”
“It is truly amazing that no one was fatally injured in the tornado,” stated Sanford. “And the good news is that the young 15-year-old girl that was in critical condition and had to be airlifted to a Minot hospital has been taken off critical status.”
Karolin Rockvoy with the McKenzie County Emergency Services was also amazed that there were no fatalities and that only nine people required medical attention.
And she credits the lack of more severe injuries being experienced on the tornado hitting on the long Memorial Day weekend.
“If it hadn’t been the Memorial Day weekend and people were away from their campers, it would have been worse,” states Rockvoy. “It would have been much worse if everyone had been at the park. There very well could have been fatalities.”
While Wrigley praised the swift response from local emergency responders and law enforcement teams and the way that the community has rallied to support those impacted by the tornado, those kind words weren’t much help to Beyda.
“The people in the community have been great,” said Beyda. “But I’ve lost my camper, my work truck and my car. Thank God, I still have my motorcycle.”
And like so many other residents of Raley RV Park, Beyda didn’t have any of his vehicles or his camper insured.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” stated Beyda. “Maybe I’ll move closer to my daughter who is living in Minot. But I’m not going to be staying here.”