Posted 7/18/18 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
When an EF2 tornado touched down in the Prairie View RV Park in the early morning hours of Tuesday, July 10, the vast majority of Watford City residents probably didn’t know what was happening. Because the tornado touched down around 1 a.m. and due to the fact that the city and areas around Watford City lost power, very few people heard the emergency sirens.
But to the hundreds of residents who lived in the park, they saw their lives quite literally be turned upside down as their RVs were tossed about and destroyed in the 127 mph winds. Twenty-six people were rushed to treatment at the McKenzie County Hospital, including a one-week-old child, who tragically died from his injuries.
In total, 250 people were displaced, while approximately 122 units were destroyed and another 79 units were damaged by the tornado making this storm the single largest emergency situation in either Watford City or McKenzie County’s history.
As emergency response teams and law enforcement agencies from across western North Dakota rushed to the scene, local law enforcement officers and EMTs worked tirelessly to find victims, reunite families that had become separated in the storm’s chaos, and transport the injured to the hospital.
We can be extremely proud of our local law enforcement and ambulance crews who bravely and professionally went about bringing the residents of the park to safety amid the downed power lines, crushed trailers and leaking propane tanks. It is because of their quick response and the grace of God that more people weren’t seriously injured.
At the same time that people were being told to leave the park, community volunteers were already at the Watford City Civic Center readying cots and gathering up supplies to care for the hundreds of displaced victims. And as area residents and companies heard of the tornado, they began delivering food, water, clothing and personal items to the shelter. In fact, the response was so great, that people were told to stop bringing in items.
But that is what the people of Watford City do when there is a need. They open their hearts and give what is needed.
The same can be said for all of the oil field companies who provided employees and equipment to help with the removal of all of the destroyed campers, vehicles and associated debris as part of the clean up efforts on Wednesday and Thursday. Without their effort, what could have been a monthlong process was completed in just two days.
And the same to the owners of the apartment complexes and motels who were able to find housing for these people who lost virtually everything they owned. To think that Watford City could close its emergency shelter just three days after the tornado hit speaks volumes about the way we all care for each other.
But there are some very important lessons that need to be learned by this most recent tornado.
First, the county needs to hold RV parks and other man camps to a more strict standard when it comes to having on site emergency shelters. Whether people living in the county choose to live in homes and apartments, mobile homes or recreational vehicles, they need to have assurances that these facilities offer them adequate protection in the event of severe storms.
Second, the city and county need to address the number of emergency sirens they have and where they are located. People can only react to an emergency siren, if they are able to hear it.
Third, the State of North Dakota needs to have the National Weather Service give serious consideration to adding another radar station that will cover western North Dakota and eastern Montana. At one point and time, this region’s population probably didn’t warrant that kind of radar coverage. But that is no longer the case.
We have had two tornados touch down in and around Watford City in the last four years that have resulted in injuries and destruction at RV parks. In both cases, because this part of McKenzie County is in a “radar shadow,” both tornados touched down without adequate notification. And that is two too many.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who was affected by this tornado, especially to the parents of the child who died.
And a big thanks goes out to everyone who responded so quickly to provide relief and support for the tornado victims.