North Dakota RV Park Residents Didn’t Hear Tornado Sirens

July 13, 2018

Warning sirens were sounded before a tornado ravaged an RV park in a city on the North Dakota oil patch, but park residents said they didn’t hear them, authorities said Wednesday.

A newborn baby was killed and more than two dozen people were injured when the storm moved through Watford City shortly after midnight Tuesday. More than 120 structures were demolished.

McKenzie County Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger said the sirens were activated but “the storm was so loud you couldn’t hear them.” He said the storm also took out a radio communications tower and forced law enforcement to use a mobile command unit.

“I live just up on a hill from the park. When it went over our house it sounded just like a 757 jet engine,” Schwartzenberger said. “It was crazy. I didn’t think it was going to be that loud and that strong.”

Prairie View RV park resident Clifford Bowden said he didn’t hear sirens but someone he knows who lives across town heard them.

“It was pretty calm on that side of town,” Bowden said.

It’s not clear how many sirens are in the city and whether they were functioning properly. Karolin Jappe, the McKenzie County emergency manager, did not immediately return phone messages left Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Ken Simosko, National Weather Service meteorologist in Bismarck, said a severe thunderstorm warning with the possibility of a tornado was issued about 60 minutes in advance of the storm.

Schwartzenberger said there are numerous shelters in the city, some of them within minutes of the RV park.

The tornado destroyed 122 structures and damaged about 200 more, though about 120 are still habitable, Mike Nowatzki, spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum, said Wednesday.

Schwartzenberger reported to Burgum and other officials late Tuesday that the boy who was killed was the son of Marisa Reber and Will Maguire, according to The Bismarck Tribune. A GoFundMe account set up for the couple showed more than 250 people had donated more than $14,200 as of early Wednesday.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Paul Martin classified the tornado as an EF2, which is defined by wind speeds between 111 and 135 mph. Wind speeds reached 127 mph in Watford City, damaging mobile homes and overturning campers in the RV park that sprung up during the recent oil boom.

About 150 people went to the Watford City Civic Center where the Red Cross set up a shelter after the storm. About 60 people including 14 children remained there early Wednesday, according to spokeswoman Gretchen Hjelmstad.

Schwartzenberger said cleanup efforts “with equipment and manpower” were under way Wednesday.

“Things are kind of controlled chaos this morning,” he said. “It is a pretty somber day.”

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