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Noem, DC delegation offer prayers, support after tornado rips through Sioux Falls

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks to the media after touring the heavily damaged Avera Behavioral Health Center in Sioux Falls on Wednesday, Sept. 11. One of three tornadoes to hit the city late Tuesday night passed directly over the center, which officials don't expect to reopen for 3-6 months. Jeremy Fugleberg / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota lawmakers are offering prayers and help from near and far for Sioux Falls residents away after a tornado and 100-mph winds tore through the state's largest city late Tuesday, Sept. 10.

No casualties or serious injuries have been reported from the storm. Twenty-five thousand residents lost power as the gusts flipped cars, tore down trees and ultimately left 37 buildings collapsed or structurally unsound.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem tweeted Wednesday morning that she has been in contact with Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken and has "mobilized (her Emergency Management) team to work with city officials." During a visit to Sioux Falls Wednesday afternoon to assess damage, Noem said the state's emergency management team "has been on site all day."

Noem told media during her visit that she has also been in contact with the White House, who she said "immediately reached out to (her) office" to offer help.

It's unclear what help from the feds could look like, though: Noem said she is unsure if the state will request a federal disaster declaration because, "Typically, for that to happen, there would have to be a lot of public infrastructure that would have to be damaged.... This is a little bit of a different situation."

Tuesday's tornado is yet another bead on a string of severe weather events that have slammed the state this year. So far in 2019, the state has seen historic blizzards, flooding and tornadoes, and in total has requested $57 million in federal emergency funds. U.S. President Donald Trump so far has approved $46 million of South Dakota's request.

Department of Public Safety Spokesman Tony Mangan said Wednesday that this year has been "busy" for the state's emergency management team. In addition to the tornado and extreme winds in Sioux Falls, Mangan said Tuesday's storm system caused flooding in Brule, Hutchinson and Lake counties.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Mangan said none of those counties, nor Minnehaha County or the city of Sioux Falls, have requested state emergency resources.

The state's two U.S. senators and sole at-large U.S. representative recently returned to Washington, D.C., where Congress has reconvened after an August recess.

In a phone call from Washington, U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., said the images coming out of Sioux Falls are "jarring," and that it will take a long time for the city to recover from not just the acute damage to buildings and infrastructure, but also economically.

Parts of 41st Street, Sioux Falls' main commercial drag lined with businesses, was torn apart. Johnson said the damage will ultimately "change the ability of business owners to make a living for the next few weeks, for some of them the next few months."

In a year where the state's economy is reeling from consecutive natural disasters, as well as a treacherous agriculture economy — the state's No. 1 industry — Johnson said Tuesday's storm will likely impact sales tax revenues for the state's largest city, and the state as a whole.

U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who calls Sioux Falls home, said in his Wednesday morning remarks on the U.S. Senate floor that his thoughts are with residents dealing with the aftermath now, and that he is "thankful to all the emergency responders, the electric crews and all those who worked through the night to keep residents safe."

Thune said he has spoken to TenHaken and "expressed our support to him, to his team, to our community as they begin the process of cleanup and recovery from what was a very, very damaging storm."

Thune said his wife and daughter, who reside in Sioux Falls, are safe.

Natalie Krings, a spokesperson with U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds' office, said the Fort Pierre Republican spoke with TenHaken at about 7 a.m. CT. Rounds tweeted Wednesday morning, "We continue to pray for those affected and stand ready to assist."

While Johnson said the state's consecutive extreme weather events have been tough, he said South Dakotans are "tough people," and Tuesday's tornado is "another opportunity for us to come together and recover."

"41st Street is torn up. Hundreds of homes are torn up. There will be millions of tears cried over the course of the next few weeks," Johnson said. "But South Dakota is going to come together and this experience, though tragic, is going to show us some of the best parts of who we are."