SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Within the last week the Rosebud Sioux reservation has received around 2-3 feet of snow, with the area around Mission landing with 34″. With roads blocked by drifts up to 20 feet tall and another system closing in, the situation is now dire.
Robert Oliver is the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST) Emergency Manager. In a phone call Monday morning, he provided an update on the situation on the reservation.
“We’re running short on a lot of equipment,” Oliver said. “Some of our equipment is breaking down. We have a lot of people out there who are needing propane, needing firewood, needing groceries.”
As of Monday morning, 120 families on the reservation, which covers land in five counties, were without propane. This has led water pipes to freeze, leaving these families not only without heat, but also without water to drink.
Due to conditions, we were told propane has only been able to be delivered to eight of those 120 families.
At issue currently is a lack of proper equipment.
“All of our traditional equipment that was used normally to remove the snow is not big enough,” said RST Emergency Management Chief of Staff, Wayne Boyd. “There’s just too much snow. It’s too heavy and this equipment is breaking down.”
Because many other parts of the state have also been impacted by heavy snowfalls, the equipment needed is hard to come by.
“We’re doing what we can with what we have at the moment,” Oliver said. “We have probably 10-20 foot drifts. In some places, we’re not going to be able to open them unless we have a front-end loader or a v-plow.”
Currently, the RST is working with plow trucks, but Oliver says these are not as effective as the heavier equipment that is needed. “The only way to get to these houses is with a v-plow,” he said.
Propane delivery is not the only reason these roads need to be opened. Families will also need access to food, and for some, medical needs are the highest priority. “I think we had like, five deaths so far,” said Oliver.
“It’s going to be a long process,” said Boyd. “But we’re working 24-hours a day trying to get to everybody — we’ve had some babies that had to be delivered, we’ve lost some lives.”
On Saturday, Oliver says the tribe began work to dig out dialysis patients and get them to treatment.
“We have been assisting the DaVita Dialysis unit in getting the patents in,” said Oliver. “I know some of them haven’t ran since last Monday –this is no joke, and we’re looking for more assistance.”
It can not be stressed enough how much of a priority heavy equipment is at this moment, but Oliver says obtaining it is not a certainty yet. He said that at the moment the RST is working with Brent Kolstad, a Regional Coordinator with the South Dakota Office of Emergency Management.
“I believe we’re getting three front-end loaders,” Oliver said, noting these are being operated by contractors. He hopes they will arrive by Monday afternoon.
Asked about the prospect of an emergency declaration to help the impacted area, Oliver seemed uncertain. “They’re all aware of it,” he said, in reference to a request for such a declaration sent to state and government offices.
Oliver says the RST has been working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Office of Emergency Management and Todd County Emergency Manager Kara Walkling.
Asked if the tribe has been in contact with the Governor’s Office, Oliver said that he believes RST President Scott Herman has made contact. “We’ve been talking with Dave Flute (Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations) in Pierre — he is trying to assist us in any way he can, but it’s been a slow process,” Oliver said.
A disaster declaration would open up additional resources to the RST, such as the much needed heavy equipment, however, Oliver cautioned that even if a declaration was declared, a potential mobilization of the National Guard could still take a couple of days.
A video update on the declaration by Herman can be seen here.
KELOLAND News reached out to the Governor’s Office at 10:37 Monday morning, asking whether they had been in contact with the RST, whether a disaster declaration will be signed, and if the National Guard will be deployed. As of the time of publishing, they have not responded.
With help from the state potentially days out, Oliver says the tribe is trying to reach out to other entities for assistance. “We have this freezing weather that’s coming up and we’re trying to get the roads open,” he said.
For those with resources to provide, such as heavy equipment, wood or even food, Oliver says to call the Incident Command Post at (605) 747-2559, (605) 747-2444 or (605) 747-2401.
“Right now we’re doing everything possible that we can to assist tribal members,” Oliver said. “We are five counties — we’ve been answering all your calls, we have stacks of work order that need to go out — we’re trying to get different contractors in here.”
The next major winter storm system is expected to hit South Dakota later this week. In addition to more snow, frigid temperatures are also expected, with the wind chill in the Rosebud area projected to hit around -50° F by Thursday evening.