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Tornado damages homes and businesses in South Dakota town

Wessington Springs Tornado captured by dashcam of SD Highway Patrol - Photo courtesy SD Highway Patrol Facebook
Wessington Springs Tornado captured by dashcam of SD Highway Patrol - Photo courtesy SD Highway Patrol Facebook

By Ann Nachtigal

SIOUX FALLS S.D. (Reuters) - A tornado plowed through the heart of a small town in eastern South Dakota on Wednesday, causing heavy damage to numerous homes and businesses, but no serious injuries were reported, weather and emergency management officials said.

The twister struck the town of Wessington Springs, about 125 miles (200 km) northwest of Sioux Falls, shortly before 8 p.m. local time, ripping walls and roofs from buildings, knocking some structures from their foundations and flipping cars through the air, officials said.

Kristi Sandal, a spokeswoman for the state's emergency operations center in the state capital of Pierre, said one person was reported trapped in debris but was not badly hurt.

She quoted Jerauld County spokesman Dedrich Koch as telling a local television station that three businesses in Wessington Springs, a community of about 950 residents, were destroyed and about a dozen homes sustained extensive damage.

"There is considerable damage to both homes and businesses," Todd Heitkamp, a storm warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, told Reuters. "Homes have lost walls and roofs and vehicles were thrown around."

He said the Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Jerauld County at least 20 minutes before the twister struck.

Governor Dennis Daugaard ordered 100 soldiers from the state's National Guard to assist with search and rescue and clean-up operations in Wessington Springs, his office said in a statement.

In addition to damage to homes, farms and commercial buildings, downed power lines in the area posed an ongoing safety hazard, the statement said.

The tornado struck two days after the small Nebraska town of Pilger was raked by a twister that killed at least one person and injured more than a dozen others.

On Wednesday evening, a cluster of severe storms packing winds up to 90 miles per hour and hailstones produced tornados in South Dakota and North Dakota, National Weather Service forecaster Chris Broyles said.

There have been nearly 30 reports of tornados across the nation, largely in Midwestern states, as well as reports of extensive wind damage throughout the Great Lakes region.

"I'm still shaking. I'm really just in shock," said Carol Steichen, who had been golfing at a Wessington Springs golf course when people came screaming, "get off the course, there is a tornado coming."

Steichen, who along with other golfers sheltered in a home across the street from the course, said she later saw papers and belongings strewn about and emergency vehicles roaring into town.

"It was so scary," she said.

(Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson from Seattle; Writing by Steve Gorman and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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