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Relief for ‘resilient’ Dakotans

Recovery slow for survivors of January ice storm that knocked out power for thousands

BY KATE SAAVEDRA | February 16, 2010

The Dakotas are still recovering after an ice storm in January that left a layer of ice so thick it reportedly coated power lines to the width of a baseball bat.

“The lines were so heavy with ice they couldn’t handle the weight,” said Ken Snider, a North Dakotan propane truck driver and single dad.

Snider and his two daughters spent five days without electricity after the storm on Jan. 20 toppled more than 3,000 power lines in parts of North and South Dakota including the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Indian Reservations.

His family was “half-heartedly prepared,” said Snider, who doesn’t have a generator. He kept his family warm with a kerosene heater and a propane stove. Heat wasn’t the only issue – there also was no running water. They had to drive 60 miles to Bismarck to stock up.

“It was actually probably a good experience for my kids. You know, they learned that they can live without television. We played cards every night and sat around the kerosene lamp in the kitchen. Builds a lot of character, that way,” said Snider, whose children are 11 and 14 years old. “I think we’re (North Dakotans) a pretty tough bunch of people – we have a ‘take it as it comes’ philosophy.”

That attitude prevented Snider from asking for help when he met a man who’s only mission is was to aid others.

While filling a propane tank shortly after the storm, the Rev. John Floberg asked Snider if he knew anybody who was having problems due to the ice storm. “Finally, probably five minutes into that conversation, during which I was making it very clear that I was looking to assist anyone who needed help, he (Snider) said that he was into five days without power,” said Floberg. Snider had lost about $1,500 worth of food stored in his freezer that went bad after the power went out.

During the summer, many residents stock up on food for the winter so that they can devote their winter income to propane and other heating costs, explained Floberg.

Why the resistance to help? Snider said, “We’re a salty bunch.”

Floberg said that he’s all too familiar with the tough North Dakota mindset – that’s why he was so persistent with Snider and others. “North Dakotans are a pretty resilient people and they aren’t making themselves readily known, saying ‘Hey, I’ve got a problem over here,’” he said. They’re not quick to report distress, noting power outages and plumbing problems as a way of life in rural areas during storms, Floberg explained.

Floberg serves St. Luke's Church in Fort Yates, Church of the Cross in Selfridge, St. James Church in Cannon Ball and the Standing Rock Episcopal Church on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. He is trying to identify people who are in need of assistance, especially those who have plumbing problems. He said that some of the people who need assistance live in rural areas, and the cost to travel “140 miles or more” makes plumbing repairs extremely expensive.

Repairs are expected to cost between $2,000 and $5,000 per damaged home, according to Episcopal Relief and Development.

In North and South Dakota, many homes sustained damage from water pipes that froze due to exposure to the cold. It’s difficult to know how many homes were affected, said Floberg.

In South Dakota, water problems plagued residents when lack of electricity caused a flood and disabled a water treatment plant in Eagle Butte, near the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, leaving people without running water for up to three weeks, said Nancy Hanneman, president of South Dakota’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

Parts from the plant had to be removed and sent about 85 miles away for repair, said Hanneman. That process took several days, after which water treated at the plant had to be tested and deemed drinkable before it was back to running through residential pipes.

In a press release this week, Chairman Joseph Give Plenty of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe addressed the water issue. He sent out thanks for immediate relief contributions, but urged people to shift “focus to requests for federal disaster relief and the longer-term task of fixing our damaged water infrastructure. Our battered water infrastructure, our water intake and water pipeline needs to be rebuilt to prevent these catastrophes in the future.”

Among those who have provided immediate relief contributions was Episcopal Relief and Development, who stepped in to fund the Episcopal Dioceses of North and South Dakota. Floberg’s and other churches within the dioceses have provided aid in the form of food, shelter, plumbing repairs and heating sources, like propane. The Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota tapped into emergency funds to provide immediate relief.

Tribal governments also helped by setting up shelters, provided with blankets, cots and meals from American Red Cross. Grants received last year allowed the Red Cross to aid the tribe in disaster preparation and last fall they offered a course that provided tribal members with training on shelter management said Richard Smith, executive director of the Black Hills Area Chapter American Red Cross in Rapid City, S.D. As of Friday, only a couple of shelters were still open because of cold temperatures, said Smith.

The Cheyenne River Indian Reservation and the state of South Dakota declared a state of emergency following the storm and the reservation has applied for FEMA relief funds. Hanneman said long-term recovery has been organized largely by tribal authorities.

Hanneman and Smith both said their organizations would continue to work on emergency and disaster preparedness in the affected areas.

Additionally, in a press release issued last week, EPR’s Senior Vice President for Programs Abagail Nelson said, “Episcopal Relief and Development is committed to supporting the communities of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Reservations as they continue to recover from these storms and get back to life as normal.”

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Related Links:

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Website

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