Storm forces evacuation of grandstand at Sioux Empire Fair

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Severe weather brought an abrupt end to the music at the Sioux Empire Fair Thursday night. The wind, rain and lightning led to the evacuation of the grandstand even before the headline act Old Dominion took the concert stage. Organizers want fairgoers to be prepared for the next round of severe weather, which could arrive as soon as Saturday.

Sue Caldwell’s daughter was among the concert-goers who evacuated the grandstand for the safety of the armory Thursday night.

“She was glad that they had the plan in place and they escorted people over and she felt safe here,” Caldwell said.

But fair officials say there were problems with the evacuation plan because the concert crowd was slow to leave their seats.

“When we first announced they had to evacuate, maybe 20-percent left the grandstand area and then when we got back on the PA system and announced again, we had to have security help push everybody out from the grandstand,” Sioux Empire Fair President & CEO Scott Wick said.

But some fairgoers say they were reluctant to evacuate because it was unclear whether the concert was simply being delayed, or cancelled altogether. The storm also shut down the carnival rides in the midway.

“Our policy is when lightning is within 10 miles, we start shutting down our tall rides and we start taking action to motivate people to move to safety,” Midway Manager Sarah Bertozzi said.

Fairgoers need to come prepared with more severe weather in the forecast for the weekend. That includes bringing along rain gear and be ready to move at a moment’s notice.

“We’re familiar with the fairgrounds and so if they say armory, we’ll come here. If they say in the grandstand, we’ll go over there. Wherever they tell us to go, is what we will do,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell plans to bring her two grandchildren to the fair on Saturday. She says they’ll be paying close attention to the weather to make sure their visit is both fun, and safe.

This was the second year in a row Old Dominion couldn’t play before a crowd in the grandstand. Last year, the group cancelled their scheduled performance at the fair because of the pandemic.

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