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June 24, 2014 10:10 PM

The Long Road Back For Wessington Springs

Wessington Springs, SD

The residents of Wessington Springs continue to pick up after a devastating EF2 tornado ripped through the heart of the town.

No one was seriously hurt, but the storm destroyed dozen of homes. With the help of volunteers, the community is trying to clean up and move on.

"I was just devastated. I had no idea why everything was gone, and just shock," Braden Jones said.

June 18, 2014 is a date that many residents of Wessington Springs will never forget.

"It's going to be different. Everything is different," Viola Thompson said.

Thompson's family warned her about the tornado, and she didn't even hear the storm when she was safe inside the community hospital. When she heard about where the twister hit in town, she quickly became worried.

"I thought, 'Oh not my home I hope.' Pretty soon my daughter-in-law came and said, 'You haven't got a house,'" Thompson said.

The next day the 90-year-old learned that her home for 12 years was gone in seconds. She now has just memories along with a few pictures and items recovered. The day of the tornado, Thompson was just about to put her home up for sale because she wasn't able to do the upkeep of the home.

"I didn't think it was going to help me out that way," Thompson said.

Even though Thompson's home is now just a foundation, she was happy to have her family by her side through this difficult time.

"I've had my daughter-in-law and son pamper me and take care of me," Thompson said.

Thompson's daughter-in-law, Luanne, is amazed with how the cleanup is coming along with help from the Red Cross and the National Guard. Over 150 soldiers initially helped after the disaster, and the 40 plus guard members still there plan on staying until the cleanup is finished. She says even with all the effort, the town will never be the same.

"We will pick up. It will be better, but it's still tough. A lot of people lost their home, but we'll be ok," Luanne Thompson said. 

While a lot of homeowners are looking for a new place to live, Mayor Melissa Mebuis wants everyone to remember that night could have been much worse.

"Yes, people are sad. They lost their homes but as soon as they say that, there's a but. But there was no deaths. We all survived. We all will survive this and we'll be better for it," Mebuis said.

Now it's time to start healing and getting back to their everyday lives.

"We're still open. We're still going. Electricity, stores are open. We're doing our activities. We're going to try and get to as much normal as we can," Mebius said.

The community started up its youth baseball and softball leagues again, as well as planning to start a youth musical. The city's mayor says it's very important to help the younger generation of Wessington Springs rebound after this disaster.

Braden Jones is one of those younger residents. He says what the town needs to rebound won't be solved with a street sweeper or a chainsaw.

"I guess the only thing I can say is time because one of the beautiful things about Springs I thought was there's so many trees, and you just can't buy a new fully-grown tree. You got to start from scratch, so I guess we'll just build from the ground up," Jones said.

The recent high-school graduate will be attending the University of South Dakota in the fall. He says after the disaster, he's learned a lot about himself and the community that he will take with him the rest of his life.

"You need to go out, make a lot of friends because I see so many friends here. So many family members that just came. So when they're in need, go help them. Just kind of put yourself out there and do what you can for everyone else. Don't just think about yourself," Jones said.

As Viola Thompson sits and remembers the past, she believes the future of the community is bright because of the people.

"Very good place to live. Couldn't be any better. Everybody cares about everybody," Thompson said.

While the tornado might have changed the look of the town, the residents believe the heart of Wessington Springs is still strong.

Those who wish to donate to the Wessington Springs Relief Fund can do so by visiting the Red Cross website or by calling 1-800-Red-Cross and designate your donation for Wessington Springs.

Cash donations can also be taken to American Bank & Trust locations in Wessington Springs, Alpena, Huron, Wolsey, Miller, Huron-Walmart, Pierre, Mellette and De Smet.

View photos of the tornado and aftermath in our Storm Photo Galleries

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