ND/Turtle Mountain tornado victims get lots of volunteer help

Rolla, North Dakota (AP) 7-08

AP Photo by Sherie Zupan via Minot Daily News
A tornado touches down northeast of Rolla, N.D., in a store parking lot on July 7, 2008. Residents say they were warned well before a tornado struck their small town, destroying six homes and damaging others.

Scores of volunteers July 8 helped tornado-damaged communities in northern North Dakota clear away debris from a storm that destroyed six homes and seriously injured one man.

A preliminary report from the National Weather Service said the tornado that struck the town of Belcourt on the afternoon of July 7 was rated an EF-3, with wind gusts in the range of 136 mph to 165 mph. It was not immediately clear whether it was the same tornado that destroyed six homes and damaged about 10 other buildings, including an apartment complex, in nearby Rolla.

Martin Peltier, 44, suffered a crushed pelvis after his Belcourt home was lifted off its foundation and parts of cinder blocks collapsed on him during the storm, relatives and officials said. He was flown to Minot’s Trinity hospital, where he was reported in serious but stable condition.

No other serious injuries were reported. A Rolla-area firefighter was treated and released for a minor injury, then returned to help others, residents said.

Dr. Richard Larson, medical director of the ambulance service at Quentin N. Burdick Memorial Health center in Belcourt, said one of the nurses at the hospital saw up to four tornadoes. One was one-half to one mile to the north of town when it moved by the hospital, he said.

Gov. John Hoeven and other state officials came to Rolla and to Belcourt, which is on the Turtle Mountain reservation, to talk to homeowners. State Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm said his department should have some idea of the extent of the damage by the end of the week.

Some reservation residents said sirens did not go off to warn people. Tribal Councilman Stewart LaFountain said he knew of no emergency plan in place, but he praised the emergency workers.

“The response was quick. It was unorganized but it was quick,” he said.

Erma Mickelson, who was coordinating volunteers at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Rolla, said the turnout was “fantastic.”

“I’ll bet there’s 200 or more,” she said. “We’ve had people bring in food and sign up to help.”

Much of the debris in front yards had been picked up by the afternoon, said the Rev. Mark Kolbo, the pastor at Our Savior’s.

“A lot of people, when they first look at the devastation, they say, ‘Where do you start?”’ he said. When volunteers pitch in, he said, “people whose houses are lost feel a little lighter.”

The twister or twisters were produced by a storm system that also knocked out power in parts of central Minnesota and Wisconsin.