South Dakota Town Residents Hopeful on Rebuilding After Tornado

By JAKE SHAMA, The Daily Republic | December 1, 2015

Not everyone is giving up on Delmont.

Six months after a tornado destroyed more than 40 homes in Delmont, S.D., some residents have stayed and are rebuilding.

Construction projects can be seen around the town from Main Street to a farm two miles south of town, owned by Steven and Carolyn Peters.

“(I’m) piecing things back together, trying to get back to some degree of what was before the storm,” Steven Peters told The Daily Republic.

The family’s home and farm equipment were almost completely destroyed during the May 10 twister. Now, Peters has three new grain bins, a shop, a garage and is planning on constructing a new home across the road to the south.

The bins have already been put to use as much of Peters’ crops were spared and produced good yields, which filled the bins, Peters said.

“We harvested corn and soybeans had a very good harvest,” Peters said.

However, Peters said he also raises cattle on the farm, but the land isn’t quite ready for that. He said it will take time to completely restore his property.

“It took about 30 years, and then my dad probably 40 or 50 years of his lifetime, to build this farm up, and so I know it can’t be done overnight,” Peters said. “I’m hoping we can at least get it together somewhat that it’s workable.”

According to Peters, the rest of the town is recovering slowly but faces its own challenges.

“As quick as it went away, it can’t come back that quick, unfortunately,” Peters said. “The demise with Delmont is that so many people probably left or exited after it happened. They aren’t going to rebuild, and some are.”

Delmont Mayor Mae Gunnare corroborated Peters’ statement. Gunnare said about 70 people have not returned since being displaced.

Gunnare said 44 houses were destroyed in the storm, and she counts seven that have been rebuilt. Zion Lutheran Church is expected to be rebuilt in the spring. Although she hears that people are buying lots and building houses, Gunnare said the situation is “still looking bleak.”

“Once we get homes that are being built now, I think that will really help. Seeing lights on all the time, there’s action there and (all) that,” Gunnare said.

The mayor said a farmer is donating trees, which could be planted next year, and she is hoping to get grass growing again by the spring to keep dirt from blowing around town and to help raise property values. She plans on getting approvals from landowners over the winter months but said it could be a long process.

“We want to get it looking green again,” Gunnare said.

Gunnare said the recovery process will likely take a while, and the town may never return to exactly as it was before.

“It’s going to be a long time. It’s going to be a new normal,” Gunnare said.

Delmont never received aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the town has gotten donations from local organizations and individuals to aid the recovery.

“I feel pretty hopeful. We still have some donations coming in, and the city has applied for some funds from the (Lutheran Social Services) so we can get ahead, too,” Gunnare said.

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources waived the town’s water loan for three months, and Delmont will meet with the DENR again in March to reapply. This allowed the town to maintain water and sewer services. The state also loaned the town a dump truck.

“They’ve been really good with us,” Gunnare said

The mayor said the town was also granted a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture, and the USDA organizations in Mitchell and Huron have been particularly helpful.

The Avera Foundation also supplied a donation, which Gunnare said was for beautification.

The monthly sewer bill for Delmont residents is $22, and the waiver made by the state allowed the town to avoid raising the price for now, but Gunnare said the town may need to get the loan deferred for a couple years to “get over the hump.”

“I know we have a lot of elderly and fixed-income people in Delmont, and so we try to maintain that (price),” Gunnare said.

Because about 70 people are not replacing their homes, Gunnare said the town is not receiving tax revenues that used to come in from those properties, and that can cause utility rates to rise.

Don and Barbara Hoffman, who have lived in Delmont for 18 years, are two residents who are worried about rate increases.

“The sewer prices and the water prices, that’s all going up because we lost a bunch of people. They’re not going to be paying,” Don Hoffman said. “So who’s going to pay it? The ones that are staying there.”

Don said their house sustained about $40,000 in damage, but insurance paid for all the repairs.

Still, no matter how much trouble the town goes through, the Hoffmans plan to stay.

“There’s a bunch of us that aren’t going to give up on Delmont. We’re going to stick it out,” Barbara said. “We’re just going to limp along and hope that something works out.”

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.