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Help ready to assist Spencer

BY JIM KETCHAM | SPENCER, S.D. | June 20, 1998

SPENCER, S.D. (June 20, 1998) -- Help continued to pour into devastated Spencer, SD, this week, even as

bulldozers finished the work the tornado couldn't do -- leveling the entire

town except for 11 homes that will be repaired.

Gil Furst of Lutheran Disaster Response recently returned from Spencer and

the nearby areas. "There's only 42 square blocks of earth left," he said.

"Big mechanical pickers were moving over the ground, picking up debris and

hauling it away."

Furst visited one rural family that lost 11 buildings to the tornado,

including the house, barn, silos, storage sheds and more. Another family

was living in a little travel trailer on the site of what had been their

farm. "They were surrounded by this cloud of acrid smoke and when we asked

them what happened they said they had piled up all they had been able to

find in a big heap and set a match to it. When we looked around their

property, all we could see was a big black smudge on the earth, like a

giant thumbprint. Absolutely nothing identifiable was left to tell you this

had been a farm."

Bob Blom, Church World Service Disaster Response Coordinator, reports that

the Interlakes Community Action Program, based in McCook County is expected

to become the fiduciary agent for a new local relief group, SARIN (The

Spencer Area Recovery & Interfaith Network).

Control of the Spencer Relief Fund, originally started in a local bank, has

been turned over to SARIN. "The McCook County Ministerial Association will

take care of long-term needs," said Blom, "and the principal

decision-makers for SARIN will be representatives of local churches. They

will help coordinate social services and mental health services. The

Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, Lutheran Disaster Response, the

Mennonite Disaster Services, the CRWRC, Catholic Charities, UMCOR and

others will be part of the wider resource network."

"The physical needs will be handled in the near future," he said, "but the

psychological and spiritual needs will require long range attention, each

person in their own time and way."

"With the National Guard, prison trustees, local contractors and a teen

boot camp program all helping, a tremendous amount of clean up work has

been done," said Blom. "The state even set up a place where any personal

items found by the workers could be stored until people have a chance to

sort through them."

But concern remains with the rural families who have only a short window of

opportunity to replant and their fields are still clogged with debris. "The

last few days have been too wet to put any equipment in the fields, which

further complicates the problem," Blom said. It is still not clear whether

the town will be rebuilt, although Governor Bill Janklow, insists it can

and will be.

Blom says the early reports that the town was nearly all retirees who were

not interested or unable to rebuild may have been exaggerated. "If you have

adequate insurance and you don't need a job in Spencer, why not rebuild?"

he asked.

"Fortunately," said Blom, "Spencer is only about five miles from Salem, the

county seat, and 15 miles to Mitchell, which in Dakota terms is a short


"Right now its watch and wait," Furst concluded. "We're giving small cash

grants to families as they try to get on with their lives."

LDR also reported that the Armory in nearby Salem is "well-stocked with

items both useful and useless, including fake fur coats and used prom


Posted June 20, 1998

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