Twin tornadoes strike small Montana town

BY GEORGE PIPER | Lewistown, MT | August 17, 1999

Senior citizens in this central Montana town can't recall the last time a tornado struck here, but it's likely no one will soon forget the destruction caused by Saturday's storm.

Initial reports indicate damage to 150 homes -- a figure officials say will go higher -- after two tornadoes and hail affected nearly everyone in the town of 6,100. Up to 20 homes

sustained major damage.

"We feel that this number is going to go up extensively," said Lacey Marks, public information officer for Fergus County Disaster and Emergency Services (DES). "On a lot of

houses, you can't see the damage from the outside."

The human toll proved remarkably light, with only one minor injury reported.

Storm damage is evident all over town. What's amazing, Marks noted, is that despite several trees being uprooted and thrown to the ground, few of them added to the property

damage. "It was like someone was standing there and keeping the trees from causing more damage," she said.

The tornadoes, part of three separate storms that moved across Lewistown on Saturday, left wind and hail damage in their path. Late Monday afternoon, some 100 homes were

still without power, and telephone service had not been completely restored. Further assessments later this week will give emergency officials a better idea of the overall


Electricity could be a problem for some low-income residents. The storm knocked out a main electrical loop. Marks said the utility company can restore the power lines, but

electricians must reconnect individual houses.

With that service costing up to $500 and some residents being without insurance, Fergus DES officials are searching for financial assistance for these survivors.

"We're doing everything we can to find whatever aid we can at this point," she said.

A close-knit community, Lewistown is holding up well as neighbors help neighbors clean up from the storm, noted Marks. The rest of Montana is pitching is as well with

volunteers and calls offering help flowing in statewide.

"The community effort is just phenomenal," she said. "We're really blessed to be a small community where people are out helping their neighbors."

Since 1989, Montana averaged 12 tornadoes per year, according to statistics from the Storm Prediction Center. Through June 30, four twisters with another four reports of funnel

clouds have hit the state.

The Lewistown storm caused the most damage in a series of severe weather that stretched from the Northern Plains to the Gulf Coast.

Across the Montana border in North Dakota, fierce hailstorms smashed windows and dented buildings in several communities. Also, a suspected tornado blew out automobile

windows and left a church and shopping mall badly damaged on Saturday in Picayune, Miss.

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