Posted 5/27/14 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
One person was transported to a Minot hospital, while eight others were taken to the McKenzie County Hospital in Watford City after a tornado destroyed Riley RV Park, located about eight miles southeast of Watford City on Monday evening.
The tornado that ripped through the man camp was part of a severe thunderstorm that dumped heavy rain and up to softball-size hail across the area.
“The glass in our camper’s windows started shattering and the hail came flying in,” stated Cesar Villa, who lived in one of the campers in the RV park with his fiancee, Victoria Deleon, and their two boys, ages four and five. “We heard a roaring noise, and at the same time a tornado warning came across my smart phone.”
According to Villa, after a neighbor started banging on their trailer door and yelling at them to get out, they bolted to their car.
“We could see the tornado coming as we got into our car and started driving off,” stated Villa. “It was huge.”
Both Villa and Deleon were among the residents of the park who were slightly injured. Villa suffered a sprained ankle when he slipped on his camper’s wet steps and fell to the ground. Deleon suffered minor scrapes and bruises.
According to the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department, the tornado touched down at approximately 7:53 p.m. and traveled on the ground for two miles before hitting the RV park. Between 12 and 15 RVs were totally destroyed by the tornado.
At a Red Cross shelter that was set up in the McKenzie County Veterans Memorial Building, volunteers and area pastors helped with those people who were either seeking shelter from the storm or had been displaced when their campers were destroyed.
Karen Holte, a Red Cross volunteer, was one of the first persons to greet Villa and Deleon at the shelter after they had been released from the hospital and reunited with their two boys.
As the two had something to eat and drink, Holte assured them that they would be taken care of and that the Red Cross had arranged for a motel room for them. Many of the area motels had opened their rooms to the residents of the RV park, who had lost their homes.
Meanwhile, at the scene of the tornado, members of the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department, along with the Watford City Fire Department and the Watford City Police Department were combing the debris-strewn park for other injured persons while many of the residents were searching through the wreckage for personal items.
According to Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, the community was very fortunate that the tornado struck where it did.
“Had the tornado struck in one of the larger man camps or in a more heavily populated area, the damage and the injuries could have been much worse,” stated Sanford.
While Riley RV Park bore the brunt of the tornado’s damage, hail damage was reported along a line from south of Arnegard to Watford City.
It was reported that the softball-sized hail that fell on Curt Moen’s farm south of Arnegard destroyed much of his farm machinery. And south of Watford City, Don Moberg stated that three of his vehicles were totalled as a result of hail damage.
“We had baseball-size hail at our place,” stated Moberg. “They cratered our vehicles.”
Other agencies that responded to the tornado at Riley RV Park were the McKenzie County Ambulance Service, the McKenzie County Rural Fire Department, as well as fire departments from Arnegard, Alexander, and Keene, the Alexander First Responders, the Williston Ambulance Service and the North Dakota Highway Patrol.