Damage from July tornado still not repaired

Belcourt, North Dakota (AP) 9-08

The storms struck without warning on a sunny July afternoon, residents say. Some say there were as many as five storm, erasing a 20-mile-long path through the hills just north of Belcourt before shattering a neighborhood in Rolla.

“It was a beautiful day and no one could imagine that there would be a tornado that day,” Martin Peltier recalled.

Peltier was crushed when a basement wall fell on him at his home about a mile north of Belcourt.

“I started praying and crying and fighting and doing everything I could to get out from underneath that weight,” Peltier said. “I wanted to give up a couple of times and let myself die. I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it. I was thinking about my children. I had a newborn that was 2 weeks old. I kept kicking and screaming and tearing myself up as I was doing it.”

No one was killed during the storm. Officials said 55 homes were damaged and 12, including Peltier’s, were declared a total loss.

Peltier’s pelvis and tailbone are now held together with pins and screws. The rebuilding of his home has not yet begun. He had been there for only three months, working to make it a better place for his family.

“In a couple of seconds, it was all gone,” Peltier said. “The tribe has been trying to help me and I’m thankful for that and I appreciate all the people in the hospital. We’re just hoping we can pull everything back together again and try to start our lives again. I’ll keep battling.”

Anita Blue, the emergency manager for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, said the tornado hit one of the most poverty stricken areas in North Dakota.

“Our tribe is not capable of recovering from the tornado on our own,” Blue said. “We don’t have an emergency fund to help these people recover so we have to rely on local, state and federal agencies.”

Cash donations are still being accepted at Turtle Mountain State Bank in Belcourt, but the relief fund’s growth has slowed since the days immediately following the storm. The estimated damage in the area is $500,000, less than the $1 million required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for public assistance.

“We do have a verbal agreement to get us 12 FEMA trailers but have not yet finalized the paperwork,” Blue said last week. “Even if we get them, they’ll likely be trailers for the South, without furnaces or insulation. Estimates are that it will cost over $20,000 per trailer to winterize them and the snow is going to fly soon.”

Some of the tarps nailed down as a temporary fix on damaged homes are still in place nearly two months after the tornado, with leaks that have caused more damage.

“The most concern right now is getting our people with the tarps some help,” said Bonnie Delorme, at the tribal emergency office. “You drive by their beautiful homes and they are all tarred now. The tarps are tattered and torn off. Winter is coming and you know how winters are. It’s very hard to see.”

The tribe has applied a federal housing grant.

“When we drove through the area of devastation, we realized it hit some of our poorest people, and your heart is heavy because you know they are never going to be able to afford, on their fixed income, a new roof or fix a window that was shattered. You just know that,” Delorme said. “We need to find anyway we can to help our people.”

The storms also left emotional damage.

“One lady laid on her grandkids in a tub in a trailer house because, she said, if somebody was going to go it was going to be her first. They all screamed as the tornado picked them up, hovered them and smacked them down. It did it three times. When you talk to them about it now, they just start crying,” Blue said. “It’s been lots of prayers and lots of hope that keeps these people going.”