5 year anniversary of Wessington Springs tornado

Local News

It’s been five years since an E-F-2 tornado tore through the town of Wessington Springs.

Though no one was killed, the twister that produced winds up to a 135 mph, caused widespread damage, destroying at least 50 homes.  

Today, even though the town has recovered and people have rebuilt, the disaster is still fresh in a lot of people’s minds. 

It was a day like any other in the small town of Wessington Springs. 

“We were just out watching the girls softball game at our little league field,” City Finance Officer Linda Willman said. 

It was the calm before the storm…..

“People were out mowing their lawns, they had no idea anything was happening,” Wessington Springs Fire Chief Jim Vavra said. 

……but life here was about to change, drastically. 

 “The fire department just kept going up and down the streets just letting everybody know the tornado was coming,” Willman said. 

Wessington Springs Fire Chief Jim Vavra had warning that a tornado was coming and he and his other volunteer fire fighters sprung into action.    

“Went to the nursing home, the hospital, apartments where older people were living; trying to make sure everybody was taken care of,” Vavra said. 

“I just couldn’t believe the devastation, it didn’t even look like my hometown,” Willman said.

Loree Gaikowski, who is now the development director, had moved away for a time, but came back home to help with the recovery.  

“I remember coming back into town and just crying, because it looked like a war zone,” Development Director Loree Gaikowski said. 

The National Guard and dozens of volunteers also responded to help storm victims and those left homeless by the tornado. 

The American Legion destroyed in the storm has been rebuilt and so have other businesses and homes.  

The town is in the process of two major fundraisers; one to remodel the swimming pool — the other to raise money for a community center where people will have more space to gather for special events. 

The town, that once looked like this five years ago, now is thriving. 

“Five years later if you didn’t know what trees were missing, you’d never know we were hit by a tornado,” Vavra said. 

In all, 12 businesses were either damaged or destroyed. 

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