Minneotans experienced South Dakota tornadoes
As three tornadoes struck Sioux Falls last week, six Minneota natives were within close proximity and talked about their experiences. Although none of them were injured by the Aug. 11 tornadoes, five of the six of them work at Avera McKennan, which was not damaged.
Patients from the heavily-damaged Avera Behavioral Health Center had to be evacuated and brought to other hospitals. The Avera Heart Hospital also sustained damage. Eight people suffered minor injuries at the Behavioral Health Center. In all, nearly 40 structures were damaged in Sioux Falls.
Sara (Maeyaert) Haken, Emily (Opdahl) Frank, Kelsey Maeyaert, Tara Moen and Lauren Buysse have seen their workloads increase at the hospital since that day.
“The Behavioral Health campus had to evacuate all of their patients and they sent quite a few of them to McKennan,” said Haken, a registered nurse who works on the Surgical/Trauma floor at McKennan.
“The tornado happened after midnight and they asked for workers to come in during the middle of the night to help.” McKennan Hospital has been near capacity for months. So the additional patients made things interesting for the staff.
"We had patients all over," said Haken, a 2011 Minneota graduate. Lauren Buysse (Class of 2013) is currently an LPN at McKennan and was working the night shift when the tornadoes struck.
"We didn't hear any sirens go off," said Buysse.
"We had alerts come over the intercom of a tornado warning." The power was knocked out at McKennan from 11:30 p.m. until 5 a.m., although the hallways were lit from backup generators.
"Everywhere else we had to use head lamps," Buysse explained. "We went into our patients' rooms and made sure they were safe, away from the windows, and we put their blinds down.”
"It was scary throughout the night seeing all the rain and thunder, and all the trees moving. All the street lights were black, so the only time you could see what was going on was when there was lightning." Frank (Class of 2011) is also an RN at McKennan's main campus.
"Thankfully, there was no damage to our main hospital," Frank said. "And none of the inpatient rooms at the Avera Heart Hospital were damaged so they didn't have to evacuate any of those patients."
Avera Behavioral Health is expected to be down for three to six months until repairs are completed. "We are currently still housing some of those patients at the main campus," said Frank.
"And our administration is working with the Human Services Center in Yankton to see if it's a possibility to occupy some of those beds with our staff and patients over this time period."
Haken said that Brandon, where she lives with her husband Logan about 10 minutes from Sioux Falls, "didn't have any damage; just wind and rain" that morning. "I actually didn't know what happened until I woke up at 5:45 a.m. that morning," she said.
"I saw a lot of text messages from work and some weather alerts on my phone. I had Connor look on TV and then we saw what happened."
The Sioux Falls area had two days of heavy rain and Haken noted there was extensive flooding in that area. Frank and her husband Logan live in Harrisburg, four miles south of where the tornadoes struck Sioux Falls.
"In Harrisburg, it was very rainy and windy at the time, and my husband and I had gotten alerts on our phones that we were in a tornado warning," she said. "I was home at the time of the tornadoes, but there were no sirens in Harrisburg."
The day after the tornadoes struck, Sioux Falls placed a "no travel" advisory in and around the damage areas.
"I wanted to be respectful to the individuals working hard to clean up our city," she said. "So I stayed off of the roads. On my way to work, I've seen quite a few trees down."
Maeyaert (Class of 2014) lives on the east end of town where there was no structural damage. "I was between shifts at work when the storm hit, so I was sleeping," said Maeyaert, also an RN on the Surgical/Trauma McKennan.
"But I got alerts on my phone and found what happened the next morning." Moen (Class of 2008) is a Lead Radiologic Technologist at McKennan and lives with her boyfriend on the unaffected east side of Sioux Falls.
"We were at home watching the weather report on TV," she said. "Our phones first alerted us of a flash flood warning, then a few minutes later the tornado warning came across.”
"And not long after that, we heard the sirens go off so we grabbed the dogs and headed for the basement. I was nervous at first, but once the sirens went off I was scared. Usually, the big storms seem to miss Sioux Falls and the sirens rarely ever go off."
Ashlynn Muhl (Class of 2011) lives in Sioux Falls but her residence is about four miles from where the storm damage. "I slept through the whole thing," said Muhl, who teaches third grade at St. Katherine Drexel. Muhl said she first heard about the tornadoes from her mother.
"I had three missed calls from her and finally woke up and answered around 6 a.m.," she recalls. "She told me about the tornadoes and asked me if I was okay. When I looked outside, it just looked like a thunderstorm."
Some of the Minneota natives surveyed the damage areas when they had a chance. “When I saw the damage, I was just in shock," said Buysse.
"There were a lot of trees and road signs that were blown over. I couldn't believe a tornado could do that much damage.”
"People that came into work that morning would say they had trailers in their yard and they didn't know whose they were."
Moen also saw the extensive damage at the hospitals and other damage areas. "It's a mess. Large trees are down and there are branches everywhere," Moen reported.
"Driving by Avera Heart Hospital and the Behavioral Health Center was heart-breaking to see. We are very thankful, though, that it wasn't any worse and that no lives were lost."
"My heart goes out to everyone affected by the storm and flooding," said Maeyaert.
"And I'm so thankful that I was not personally affected."