- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

DELMONT, S.D. (AP) - Residents of the tornado-ravaged South Dakota town of Delmont returned to their community Monday to assess their properties and see what’s left of their belongings and their town.

The tornado that hit the town of about 200 people Sunday spread debris across ditches, lawns, roads, farms and windbreaks. They had to battle brutal winds on Monday led brutal winds to salvage anything they could: important papers, clothes, photos, farm equipment and vehicles.

“That was a brand-new rider mower,” Dennis Streyle told the Argus Leader as he gestured toward a damaged piece of metal. “I used it once.”

The tornado touched down around 10:45 a.m. Sunday, as some residents were returning from church and children were at Sunday school. Nine people were injured and two were still hospitalized Monday, state public safety spokesman Tony Mangan said.

The National Weather Service rated the storm an EF-2, with a peak wind speed of 130 mph. Its path was 17.3 miles long, and it had a maximum width of 400 yards, according to preliminary data.

Mayor Mae Gunnare on Monday said the number of severely damaged or destroyed structures has been raised to more than 40, and 12 others have minor damage. No businesses were destroyed, but the twister took away the town’s new firehouse, which was only waiting for a table for the community room to celebrate a dedication ceremony.

“We’re thankful there were no fatalities,” Gunnare said.

Equipment and vehicles from the fire department, including the community’s ambulance, were trapped by the rubble. Crews were able to pull one fire truck from under the wreckage, but the rest remain pinned by a steel beam.

Among the buildings damaged was 100-year-old Zion Lutheran Church, which lost its roof, stained glass windows and pipe organ. Children who were in Sunday school took shelter in the basement when the tornado hit.

Crews on Monday continued working to restore water and electricity service in Delmont. Utility trucks and crews have been on site since Sunday assessing and repairing downed lines and poles. Public safety spokeswoman Kristi Turman said landline phone service has been restored to the town, but only corded phones are working because of the lack of electricity.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross of the Dakotas is asking people to hold off on physical donations because the needs of the residents have not been determined and there’s no storage space for the items. Cash donations are being encouraged and the money would be used to feed residents and responders at the scene.

“It is going to be several weeks or even months before this community is back on their feet again,” regional spokesman Brian Shawn said.

U.S. Sen. John Thune and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem were in Delmont Monday to see damage and talk to residents.

Turman said about 25 soldiers from the South Dakota National Guard were taking debris from public streets and rights of way. Inmates from a minimum-security unit of a state correctional facility may be sent to the area over the next few days to help clean up.

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