North Dakota National Guard responds to tornado
By Senior Master Sgt. David H. Lipp, 119th Wing
/ Published September 11, 2007
FARGO, N.D. -- The school mascot in Northwood, N.D. is the 'Thunder', and in the early evening hours around 8:45 p.m. on Aug. 26 a tornado brought a thunder like no other, ripping through the N.D. town of about 900 people.
The tornado that wreaked havoc with the trees, buildings and homes in the close-knit rural community was no ordinary summer twister; it was an F4 category tornado on the Fujita scale for rating tornado intensity. The killer tornado, measuring eight-tenths of a mile wide and 5 miles long, is responsible for taking the life of one man and sending 19 more to local hospitals.
"I still can't find my garage and it's been four days. Where does a snow blower go?" said Tech. Sgt. Chad C. Peterson, 119th Civil Engineer Squadron, who was one of the residents who weathered the storm better than his home, which is considered a total loss by his insurance adjustor.
Peterson is the human relations director and works with information technology and emergency management for the Northwood Deaconess Health Center in his civilian job, which is the largest employer in Northwood. The health center is also the place where he and his family rode out the tornado, assisting patients along the way.
His military training in emergency management kicked in when the tornado hit as he directed people into hallways and had them get down and cover their heads. Exterior doors blew open and the ceiling tiles lifted up and came crashing down around them along with glass from the windows.
The damage in the town is among the worst seen throughout state history and is estimated by the Red Cross to be somewhere between 38 to 59 million dollars. 431 of Northwood's 460 homes were destroyed, damaged or affected by the tornado.
"I've never seen destruction like this before," said Capt. Penny A. Ripperger, 119th Wing Public Affairs Officer. "You see pictures, but to walk through a town where literally every house seems to be touched by this disastrous storm is unbelievable."
Within the first 15 hours after the tornado hit, 40 N.D. Army National Guard members were driving heavy equipment into town to begin clearing streets of debris and helping the residents begin the process of getting back into their homes.
"This is what we do," said Lt. Col. Lee Nordin, Operations Officer for the 141st Combat Support Battalion, who was one of the first to respond as the on-scene commander, "We're here to support the Governor and the emergency management people in their efforts in the event of emergencies and natural disasters."
More N.D. Army and Air National Guard personnel continued to trickle in over the course of the next few days and seamlessly fit into the recovery efforts.
"Military personnel were working around the clock in every aspect of the recovery effort. Soldiers and airmen were busy operating chainsaws and heavy equipment to remove debris and clear trees and branches. They were providing security in and out of the city and they were working closely with city officials and volunteer agencies," said Ripperger.
By 2 p.m. Tuesday, only 24 hours after they began arriving, the National Guard members had helped remove and haul approximately 700 dump truck loads of debris to the land-fill 5 miles west of Northwood.
The removal of the debris made it possible for electrical technicians to work on getting power restored, which had been down since the tornado hit Sunday night.
"The soldiers and airmen of the North Dakota National Guard are doing an outstanding job assisting the residents of Northwood in their recovery efforts," said Governor John Hoeven. "The mission in Northwood highlights the dual role of our citizen soldiers in defending our nation and assisting our state in a disaster."
"The Soldiers and Airmen of the N.D. National Guard continue to serve their country from around the globe and here at home. Nearly 100 Guardsmen volunteered to help their neighbors with the recovery effort in the Northwood community," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, Adjutant General, N.D. National Guard. "This is just one of the many contributions our Guardsmen continue to make."
Sprynczynatyk was quick to add that he was pleased with the support provided by the employers of N.D. National Guard service members.
"I would like to thank the employers for their commitment and sacrifice in giving our Soldiers and Airmen time to serve. It is critical that our Guardsmen are able to deploy in an effective and timely manner to aid our communities in times of need as demonstrated here in Northwood."
"The National Guard has done a phenomenal job assisting the locals with manpower, equipment and security. I can't say enough good things about them," said Tom Bush, a FEMA region 8 team member working in the disaster command post. "The volunteerism here is off the chart. When you guys come together it is something to behold."