Twister blows away homes for people drawn to Oil Patch for work
WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Aly and Derrick Dickinson’s baby boy is due in six days, but Monday night’s tornado demolished their RV and the nursery they had set up for him.
“In a split second, it was all gone,” said Derrick Dickinson, an oilfield worker from Missouri.
People who moved from across the country to northwest North Dakota for work were picking up the pieces Tuesday after a tornado leveled at least a dozen RVs that housed workers and families.
“There are people that have lost everything and they need help,” said Brenda Hendrickson, a Red Cross volunteer from Bismarck.
Nine people were treated for injuries and one was critically injured, said McKenzie County Emergency Manager Karolin Rockvoy. The one with more serious injuries is a 15-year-old girl who was airlifted to Trinity Health in Minot, Rockvoy said.
The tornado that hit the housing camp before 8 p.m. Monday about 5 miles south of Watford City had estimated wind speeds of 120 mph, the National Weather Service said Tuesday.
John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service in Bismarck, said the tornado was an EF2 on the enhanced Fujita scale that rates the strength of tornadoes from 0 to 5.
Martin said most tornadoes in North Dakota are weaker, an EF0 or EF1.
An EF2 tornado has winds in the 110 to 135 mph range.
The tornado tossed the frame of a trailer 120 feet in one direction and a car that was parked next to it was on its roof about 60 feet in the opposite direction, Martin said.
Fifteen homes were either destroyed or severely damaged.
“It looks awful. The folks who were here lost everything. A lot of out-of-state people working,” said Jeff Savadel, meteorologist in charge, one of the National Weather Service team members assessing the site Tuesday. It’s pretty tough to see.”
Aly Dickinson, from Louisiana, said the couple would not have survived the storm if they hadn’t decided to go out to eat Monday night. When they returned, their RV was gone completely and their cats were missing. Aly said she buried one cat Tuesday and they were still looking for two others.
Connie Chadwick and her boyfriend, Brian Wieman, were feeling lucky Tuesday for escaping injuries after they rode out the tornado in their camper.
The storm blew out the RV’s windows, and debris was flying around inside as the truck drivers took shelter.
“It was horrifying,” said Chadwick, of California. “You’re in a camper. There’s nowhere to hide.”
Resident Anthony Beyda took shelter from the tornado in the hallway of his RV. The walls caved in as debris struck the side of the structure.
“RVs ain’t made for it. It wasn’t even a contest,” Beyda said.
Beyda got 16 stitches in the side of his head and spent the night in a Red Cross shelter set up at the Watford City Civic Center.
“God loves me,” said Beyda, a welder from Wyoming, who was reunited with his cat at the shelter.
Marvin Dockstader, who lives in an RV up the hill from the area most severely damaged, spent Tuesday cleaning up debris and looking for his tools after the tornado. He was at the movies when the storm hit his trailer and moved it 6 feet. The storm tossed another trailer he was helping renovate down the hill.
“There’s pieces everywhere,” said Dockstader, a construction worker from Arizona.“Everybody’s kind of walking around in shock.”
Marvin Townsend, a truck driver from Florida, fled from the storm in his pickup with his wife and watched the tornado from a half-mile away.
“I’m glad it didn’t hit at night,” Townsend said. “There would have been a lot more people hurt.”
Brenna Schlosser, 12, helped her neighbors clean up Tuesday, making a pile of dirty sweaters and clothing she found in the debris.
“I can’t help but think that could have been us,” said Schlosser, whose family is from Wisconsin.
Eyewitnesses have reported three separate tornadoes, but Martin said that may be almost impossible to confirm. Witnesses also had conflicting reports about how long the tornado was on the ground.
“It appears to have been fairly short-lived,” Martin said.
The damage was focused in the area of the housing camp, with multiple RV parks and man camps nearby that had little to no damage.
The tornado went "right by" Targa Resources' gas plant south of Watford City, said plant administrator Beth Mayden. The plant wasn't affected, she said, other than the portable toilets being overturned.
Debris littered nearby ditches and fields, and crews worked Tuesday to repair downed power lines.
“We are very fortunate that we didn’t have any fatalities last night,” McKenzie County Sheriff John Fulwider said. “It’s a really isolated spot that the tornado did touch down. We were very lucky.”
The Red Cross housed eight people Monday night at a shelter and planned to keep it open Tuesday night.
A thrift store that is in the basement of Glory of the Lord Family Ministries provided shoes, kids’ clothes and other items to storm victims Tuesday, said the Rev. Barbara Becker. One out-of-state couple told Becker they planned to return home.
“They have nothing. What little they had, they lost,” Becker said. “At least they have friends and family at home.”
How to help:
People who want to assist victims of the Watford City tornado are encouraged to donate to the American Red Cross, which is providing shelter, food and other assistance.
Blankets, toiletry items, clothing, shoes and other donations can be dropped off at the Glory of the Lord Family Ministries, 118 4th Ave. SE, Watford City.
Katherine Lymn contributed to this report.