Fire chief: 20-minute warning saved lives as tornado hit Wessington Springs, S.D.

Wessington Springs, a small town in South Dakota, had 20 minutes to prepare as a tornado approached, time that probably saved lives.
By Frances Burns  |  June 19, 2014 at 2:01 PM
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WESSINGTON SPRINGS, S.D., June 19 (UPI) -- A tornado that passed through the small town of Wessington Springs, S.D., flattened homes and businesses but spared lives, officials said.

All of the town's 1,000 or so residents were accounted for hours after the tornado touched down Wednesday night, Jerauld County State's Attorney Dedrich Koch said. Only one person received a severe enough injury to require treatment.

The damage to property was far greater, with 23 houses uninhabitable and 20 more badly damaged. At least 10 businesses suffered significant damage, half of them described as destroyed.

Fire Chief Jim Vavra said warning sirens gave residents 20 minutes to seek shelter. The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning at 7:25 p.m. local time.

Thirty to 40 people used the fallout shelter in the county courthouse as a tornado shelter. Laura Baker, another resident, had time to get to her own basement.

"It kind of sounded like a freight train," Baker said of the noise she heard.

On Monday, twin tornadoes touched down in Pilger, Neb., killing two people and leveling the center of town.

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