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Sounding The Alarm

May 6, 2014, 10:01 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Sounding The Alarm

It was a getaway for just a few days.

"It was nice. There wasn't hardly any wind or anything else and all of a sudden it came up," Jim Larson said.

At the end of June last year, Jim Larson and his wife, Deb, were staying at their Lake Poinsett retreat: a mobile home they were planning to eventually turn into a retirement home.

"We had to come back Friday night because she had to work Saturday night," Larson said.

Larson says as they were packing their car that Friday afternoon on June 21, 2013, the wind started picking up and Deb heard a warning on TV about a storm that was about to hit the lake.

"We had the car almost all packed. We had it sitting outside and I ran outside and put it in the garage and coming back into the house, I fell down. The wind blew me down. I went in the trailer house and Deb said, 'I'm not moving,'" Larson said.

The Larsons had little time to take cover. They hunkered down in the bathroom.

"I was in the same bathroom.  She was in the bath tub; I was next to the door and our house was destroyed," Larson said.

Deb didn't make it through the storm. She died after more than 100 mile per hour winds hit Lake Poinsett and destroyed their trailer home, ripping out the three hurricane straps that were tethering it to the ground.

"I can remember the floor tipping and that's it and when I woke up, I was yelling for Deb," Larson said.

The storm devastated the Larsons, damaged dozens of other properties and caused the Lake Poinsett Area Development Association to call for action in the days following the destruction; action that included putting up storm sirens around the lake.

Lake Poinsett Looking For Funding For Tornado Sirens

"Lake Poinsett, for instance, on any given summer weekend is the largest population concentration in Hamlin County and that's typical of a lot of our park areas," South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Bob Schneider said.

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks together with the South Dakota Department of Public Safety has been working to put up more storm sirens at state parks in the past two years, including two sirens that are scheduled to be up and running at Lake Poinsett before Memorial Day weekend.

"Lake Poinsett was definitely on the list and unfortunately, there was a death there last year, but fortunately we're able to get some sirens in there now," Schneider said.

Including the two sirens at Lake Poinsett, state officials are putting in a total of four sirens this year at state parks. In the last two years, Game, Fish and Parks has put up ten sirens in nine different state parks and recreation areas.

"I know we've got a responsibility to provide as safe an environment as we can," Schneider said.

The sirens cost about $10,000 each and are being paid for through a Homeland Security grant. Despite the effort, the Game, Fish and Parks Department estimates about two thirds of its parks are not covered by a warning system.

Lake Poinsett Receives Storm Siren Grants

In those areas without sirens, park staff watch the weather and then alert park users. However, officials would like to see more warning sirens, which requires more funding.

"Our business is providing recreation and protecting the resource. If we're bringing those people out to the park, we're inviting them to the park, we've got an inherit responsibility to try to provide them a safe environment or at least provide them warning where they can take action," Schneider said.

Larson applauds the effort to put up warning sirens at more state park areas. He thinks if there was more warning last June it would have made a difference.

"Yes, I think it would have. A little bit more warning. We could have went down to our neighbors and all he had was shingles off his house," Larson said.

While two sirens will cover the west side of Lake Poinsett this summer, it's estimated that two more are still needed to cover the rest of the lake.

That's why Larson still encourages others to keep a close eye on the sky this summer.

"Watch the weather because you never know what's going to happen around South Dakota," Larson said.

A warning Larson hopes others will take to heart.

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