Archive for September, 2019

#SiouxFallsStrong: after the disaster

Tornado - SiouxFallsStrong

Tornado aftermath in Sioux Falls, SD (9/11/2019)

For most Americans 9/11 is an unforgettable date—the anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center, and the Pentagon. The residents of Sioux Falls, SD, have a new date to remember—9/10. Just after 11pm on 9/10/2019 a tornado warning was issued by the National Weather Service. Shortly thereafter three tornados touched down in Sioux Falls. They caused extensive destruction of structures, power lines, and trees. Instead of waking up on 9/11 and remembering the terrorist attacks, Sioux Falls awoke to the aftermath of a natural disaster of epic proportions.

For my family it was a good lesson.  After our cell phones began beeping the weather warning, we were too slow taking shelter, choosing instead to gawk at the spectacular storm outside through a patio sliding door. We finally came to our senses when the air rushing around the frames of our very airtight Anderson windows started making a screeching noise and it felt like the glass of the patio door buckled.

Thanks be to God, we only lost a large section of a big birch tree, but were spared damage to our home, despite one of the tornadoes touching down about 200 yards away as the crow flies.  There were also non-tornadic straight-line winds comparable to a Category 2 hurricane recorded. According to meteorologist Jeff Haby (, “Straight-line wind is wind that comes out of a thunderstorm. If these winds meet or exceed 58 miles per hours then the storm is classified as severe by the National Weather Service. These winds are produced by the downward momentum in the downdraft region of a thunderstorm.” 

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.  –Palm 27:5 (NIV).

The straight-line winds alone were bad enough to cause extensive damage. The tornados were like salt in Sioux Falls’ wounds. It was only by the grace of God that there was no loss of life.  Just a few blocks from our home several small children had to be dug out of the rubble after the roof and walls of their bedroom collapsed on top of them. Miraculously, they were unharmed. An employee of a heavily-damaged pancake restaurant rode out a tornado by hunkering down inside a walk-in freezer. There are dozens of similar survival stories.  

In our neighborhood alone, there were hundreds of trees and large tree limbs down, widespread roof damage, and numerous homes so severely damaged that many of them are likely to be condemned and demolished.  I saw several sturdy steel poles supporting basketball backboards that were bent at right angles by the ferocious winds.

A couple of miles to our east a hospital suffered extensive tornado damage.  Just a couple of miles to the northwest a section of a 41st street business district had an Advanced Auto Parts store totally destroyed, several other businesses severely damaged, and hundreds of structures suffered lesser damage.  

Disasters bring out the best and the worst in people. There was some scattered looting in the aftermath of the storm. A family in our neighborhood removed some valuables from the rubble of their home and locked them in their car—someone promptly broke into the car and helped themselves.  There were also stories of phony building contractors convincing several owners of damaged homes to pay advanced deposits for repairs, only to disappear with the money.

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him,  –Nahum 1:7 (NIV)

While there were some bad actors in the storm’s aftermath, the disaster response was mostly a reminder that despite the bad news we’re bombarded with by the media every day, there are still many kind and loving people in this world. Volunteers armed with pickup trucks, trailers, chainsaws and other essential tools seemed to show up from nowhere and jumped right into the cleanup fray—sympathetic strangers helping the less fortunate.  

While my son-in-law and I were cutting up the downed birch tree in the front yard a nice lady named Deb saw us working.  She stopped her car, got out and offered to help.  We accepted of course and Deb helped turn a four-hour job into two hours. Similar examples occurred across the Sioux Falls area.

By September 12, the response was more organized, with scores of volunteers being directed to individuals in need of help by the local 2-1-1 Helpline. Many Sioux Falls churches provided squads of volunteer to help with the cleanup.  My wife Linda and I participated in a group from own church, Church of the Resurrection Anglican church (

For our initial assignment we were given an incorrect address and ended up helping out at another home that wasn’t on the Helpline list, but definitely needed help. We worked there to clean up yard debris and help cut up a fallen maple tree.  We worked alongside several members of the University of Sioux Falls men’s track team.

Tornado Volunteers

Church of the Resurrection Volunteers

The Church of the Resurrection finished that first house and moved to the location where we were originally intended to help. We made short work of that yard and then helped clear the next door neighbor’s yard.  A local resident with a pickup truck and trailer stopped by and let us load all the tree debris in his trailer.  He hauled the debris to one of several wood chipping sites set up by the city of Sioux Falls. The city’s overall response was fantastic! 

While we were working on these yards a roving patrol from God’s army—the Salvation Army—stopped by and gave us free snacks and cold drinks.  The Gatorade I received was a welcome relief on a warm summer afternoon. I’d seen the Salvation Army at work before, back in 1992 as an Army officer with the 10th Mountain Division doing disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in south Florida.  I can’t say enough about the wonderful work they performed then and today.

In the aftermath of this natural disaster #SiouxFallsStrong was born. While this hashtag might seem trite to some readers, it means a lot to many Sioux Falls residents.  Just search for it on Twitter or Facebook to gain some insight to my community’s disaster response!  The true face of Sioux Falls—a thing of beauty—was clearly on display in the aftermath of the three tornados and storms of 9/10/2019. What a blessing it is to live in such a community!

Please lift up Sioux Falls in prayer.  While much has been accomplished in the almost two weeks since the tornados struck, much remains to be done.  The recovery efforts will continue for many weeks to come. Thanks be to God for those who continue to support this monumental effort.