5 years later: Delmont’s new normal

Eye on KELOLAND

DELMONT, S.D. (KELO) – People all across the country are figuring out a new normal that might come out of COVID-19. But for one community in southeastern South Dakota, they’ve been figuring out their new normal ever since a tornado changed life as they knew it.

Five years ago at 10:15 a.m. on Mother’s Day, a force of nature that lasted only seconds left an extraordinary impact on this small southeastern South Dakota town and its residents.

“Rob called, our son-in-law, he said, ‘there’s a tornado coming.’ Well, actually, he said, ‘look out your south window and head for the basement.’ And, you know, you go through, oh you need a flashlight, my cell phone, coat, blanket… well, you know,” Delmont resident Lila Fechner said.

An EF2 tornado tore through Delmont, South Dakota and the surrounding area that morning taking with it farms, houses, a fire hall, a church and pieces of businesses.

“The house was lifted up off the foundation about six feet from fully being off the foundation. Lifted up and slammed back down. So it was ruined,” Fechner said.

Soon, though, help was on its way.

“Some of our own firemen went from their own house right out the door in search for their own neighbors and went down the street. That’s overwhelming. I mean, it really humbles you. Everybody stepped in and done their job without even being asked,” Delmont fire chief Elmer Goehring said.

Fortunately, no lives were lost that day because of the storm.

“That’s what sticks out in my head the most. It was just an absolute miracle. For that time of day, a Sunday, Mother’s Day, it’s amazing,” Goehring said.

Five years later, the town of Delmont looks a little different.

“It’s sad because the blocks that got cleared off, it’s even hard to visualize what it was like and you forget who lived where and it will never come back. But life goes on,” Fechner said.

And for Lila Fechner, who owns a farm just outside of town with her husband, life still includes some cleaning up.

“Things out of the machine shop that just got stacked on pallets and stuff are still on the pallets,” Fechner said.

Fechner says the cattle that were once on their property have not been back to the farm since being moved the day of the tornado. As for other nearby farms, Delmont fire chief Elmer Goehring says two were rebuilt and the owners of another moved to town and retired.

“Thirty seconds and, I’m just going to say, nothing got close to being normal for a year. It’s probably still not normal, but it’s a new normal,” Goehring said.

A new normal that has room for growth.

“There’s big, open areas and some people have rebuilt new houses and I’ve heard of another house possibly being built in the path area sometime here in the next year,” Goehring said.

Lauren Soulek: What will you remember the most from that day?

“The kindness and generosity of people. And being thankful that no one got killed and that we live to tell about it,” Fechner said.

The Zion Lutheran Church in Delmont was destroyed in the tornado. A new church now stands in its place and will ring its bells at 10:15 a.m. this Sunday in remembrance of the day the twister struck.

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