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Rare late tornadoes hits ND

BY SUSAN KIM | Bismarck, ND | November 3, 2000

Alice Johnson was having a normal workday at the Western North Dakota Synod Office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of

America when she was told to close off her office door and get in the hallway because a tornado was coming.

"I said 'are you kidding?' "

Unfortunately for some homeowners in northern Bismarck, Underwood, and New Salem, the answer was no. What many

forecasters believe to be several first-ever November tornadoes in the state touched down on Wednesday, damaging some 50

homes, according to Maj. Patrick Richards of North Dakota emergency management.

"There was also damage to vehicles," he said. "There were 90 mph winds."

A high school student's jaw was broken on both sides when she was hit by flying debris, the only injury reported from the

storm. House damages were mostly lost roofs or parts of garages, said Richards.

Since the tornadoes occurred in the late afternoon, kids were held in school an extra hour and half. City officials ordered

everyone off the streets, so parents were not allowed to pick up their children until the danger had passed.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Lutheran Disaster Response, and United Church of Christ were among

the faith-based response groups that assessed local damages and determined a national response wasn't necessary since most of

the affected homeowners had insurance. The American Red Cross offered to set up a shelter but no families indicated a need.

Now Bismarck is left with some cleanup and a heightened sense of community, said the Rev. Don Burnett, a pastor at Bismarck

Baptist Church. "There was quite a bit of parent anxiety over kids. But children who were evacuated had a chance to get very

well-acquainted in that hour and a half. They talked to people they might not normally talk to. Some younger children were

crying and their older siblings comforted them. Overall there was a greater sense of drawing together as a community in faith."

Bismarck resident Lou Schwindt agreed. "It was really neat during the day to just listen to the radio and hear people calling in

and offering their homes. This is the first time Bismarck has come close to a major disaster."

UMCOR is providing local pastors with information materials about children affected by disasters.

Bismarck has an ecumenical group in place that would likely handle people's unmet needs in the event of disaster, said Burnett.

He participates in the group, called Interfaith, which is a citywide coalition of church leaders who work closely with the Salvation

Army and the Burleigh County human services department. "It's a pre-existing way to address disasters," he said.

Johnson said that this was a case in which affected residents seemed to have the resources, finances, and insurance to manage

their own recovery. "Some people had the holes in their homes patched up the same evening. But they're still cleaning water out

of their carpets. Most have already contacted contractors.

"It would have been so different if this had hit another area of town," she said.

Pastors have also been visiting affected communities and ministering individually, added Johnson, who added that although

Bismarck doesn't have a history of disaster, the area is used to extreme weather conditions. "If you don't like the weather here,

wait five minutes," she said.

On Wednesday night, another tornado hit two farms near Prinsburg, MN, some 80 miles west of Minneapolis. And on Tuesday

night, a Halloween tornado in Oconto, NE, destroyed two homes, said Tim Hergenrader, public information officer for the

Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. "The downtown business area was hit pretty hard. It went right down Main Street."

Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns declared a state of emergency to help the town, population 147, repair the damages.

"The fortunate thing was that the kids were out trick-or-treating at a senior center, and they all took shelter in there and nobody

was hurt," said Hergenrader. "We also think all of the damages will be covered by insurance."

Hawaii also saw an unprecedented weather event this week, when more than two feet of rain fell in less than 24 hours, ending

late Thursday. Homes were flooded and dozens of families sought refuge in shelters. Fire department crews had to rescue

several families who were stranded in their homes.

Emergency officials were still unable to assess damages on Friday because the water had not yet receded. Several

neighborhoods remained cut off by water. Several landslides were reported on the Hawaii Belt Highway.

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