Countywide cleanup efforts continue

Jill Fier/Register: Employees examine damage at the Brookings County Highway Department property on Western Avenue early Thursday evening. The derecho sent debris from the county property flying into nearby Pioneer Park.

County declares state of emergency, report damage to 211

BROOKINGS – Countywide cleanup efforts continue following last Thursday’s derecho that tore through eastern South Dakota, including Brookings County. 

County officials believe the storm may be the worst the county has seen this century. 

“We are a resilient county,” said Robert Hill, emergency manager for Brookings County. “I’ve been in contact with all the small towns (Bruce, White, Bushnell, Elkton, Sinai, Volga and Aurora), all the small communities are doing OK. Each community got various levels of damage to their residences.”

Hill said local officials from each of the small towns have told him that everyone is doing OK. 

“They are banding together – that’s the South Dakota way – to help your neighbor out,” Hill said.

The county is still working to make contact with some of the townships, Hill said. 

The majority of the damage in the county came from uprooted and/or fallen trees – some of which were blocking county roads and highways. Those blocked roads have now been cleared by the county. Hill said they have about 100 loads of trees they have to haul in from county rights of way.

A majority of county residents also lost power. In Brookings, most people saw electricity restored by late Friday evening. 

Some didn’t have services restored as quickly, and there are still some without power. As of 3 p.m. Monday, Sioux Valley Energy still has 100 customers without power in Brookings County.

“Usually when we have one of these situations in the county, it’s more localized. It might affect one town,” Brookings County Commissioner Larry Jensen said. “This time it affected every town in the county.”

On Friday, the morning after the derecho, the Brookings County Commission met to declare a state of emergency due to the significant amount of public property damage from the storm. The purpose of the declaration was to begin the process of qualifying the storm and resulting destruction as a Federal Emergency Management Agency event. The declaration is now on file at the state emergency management office in Pierre.

“What would happen is the county declaration allows us to file with the state,” Hill explained. “The state, which has around 32 counties affected by the storm – the more damage the state has, the better chance of getting a federal declaration. It takes a presidential declaration to get federal assistance. What we’ve got now is a state declaration, which has given the governor permission to call on the National Guard (for example) to help with cleanup.”

The state will likely file a report to FEMA asking for additional assistance. If the state qualifies, President Joe Biden will file a declaration that will provide South Dakota with assistance – which will then be distributed to cities and counties.

The Brookings County Highway Department saw some damage from the storm as well. A shop in Brookings suffered serious damage, as did one each in Bruce and Sinai.

“We are working to clean those up first,” Jensen said.

In the more rural areas, some dairy farms lost milking parlors, which required cattle to be moved, Jensen said. Many hoop barns in the county were also damaged.

Over the next few days, county officials and workers will complete damage assessments and will collect trees that were left in the ditches. 

“(Cleanup) isn’t going to be done tomorrow,” Hill said. 

Important county information

Residents in the City of Brookings, rural Brookings County and any of the other towns in the county should call 211 if they have any property damage.

“211 is a South Dakota helpline,” Hill said. “They have trained call center people that have FEMA forms. What they do is they capture the information for what damage you have.”

Brookings County then gets updates about all the damage assessments the call center is receiving. Calling 211 helps streamline the damage assessments and keeps the information organized for the county.

Documenting damage on a person’s property is also important, Jensen explained. Calling 211 will help clarify what needs to be documented.

“They’ll lead you through how to document and take pictures of your stuff,” Jensen said. “Document, document, document.”

The purpose of documenting all damage is that it will help the county and state get federal assistance. The more damage that is documented, the better chance there is at getting federal help.

The easiest way to document damage is by taking pictures with a cellphone or camera.

“If you don’t have a cellphone, call your grandchild or neighbor kid who has a cellphone, and literally document everything, even if you clean it up,” Hill said. “Obviously, if you got one shingle off your house, you’re not going to get any (reimbursement), but if your roof is missing and you have to get a new roof, you need to document that your original roof was missing.”

Even if a tree was uprooted on your property but didn’t cause any damage, documenting it is still a good idea, Hill said.

“If you have to take it and dispose of it, it may or may not qualify for (a reimbursement),” Hill said. “It depends on the situation.”

If you need help with tree removal on your property, for example, call 211 because they have a list of different organizations providing assistance to people, Hill said.

“What I would recommend is if you are disposing of a lot of material, don’t burn it right away. Make sure you take pictures of it and you measure it, length and width,” Hill said.

Take pictures of any tree piles, measure length and width of piles, keep receipts from anything related to the cleanup, Hill said.

Hill remembers flooding from a few years ago, when some townships qualified for federal funding and others didn’t because they didn’t document enough of the cleanup.

“Every little bit helps; hold onto your receipts,” Hill said. 

People should also still be cautious of downed power lines and trees leaning against power lines/transformers. Hill said that fire departments responded to small fires over the weekend which were sparked due to trees leaning against power lines when the power was turned back on.

“We got the best electrical teams on the ground,” Hill said. “They are doing the best they can.”

If you have a tree leaning against a power line, give your electric/power provider a call, Hill said.

For more information, visit the county’s website. For more information on FEMA, visit fema.gov/disaster.

Contact Addison DeHaven at [email protected]

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