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Administrator offers emergency lessons

MOORHEAD -- When the F-4 tornado that hit Northwood, N.D., had satisfied its appetite for destruction, City Administrator Marcy Douglas had to worry about satisfying other appetites -- those of hundreds of displaced residents.

MOORHEAD -- When the F-4 tornado that hit Northwood, N.D., had satisfied its appetite for destruction, City Administrator Marcy Douglas had to worry about satisfying other appetites -- those of hundreds of displaced residents.

"If it's not the No. 1 priority in your disaster plan, it almost has to be, because that's what they want," she said.

Douglas shared lessons learned from the Aug. 26 tornado with about 45 emergency managers, firefighters and other local officials Tuesday at Minnesota State University-Moorhead. The purpose was to make them better prepared for disaster as tornado season approaches.

The Northwood tornado killed one person and injured 18. State Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm has estimated the total damage at $30 million.

Douglas recalled how the city was left in the dark after the tornado, with nearly $1 million in damage to its municipal electrical system. Basic power was restored in about six days.

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The twister destroyed the community center and K-12 school, which were the city's primary and secondary emergency shelters. Community Bible Church became the temporary housing shelter.

Need for food

Along with shelter, food was a major concern, Douglas said. The American Red Cross served 19,000 meals and 7,600 snacks from Aug. 27 to Sept. 9, and area restaurants and businesses provided 10,000 meals in the initial hours after the tornado, she said.

But there also were less obvious issues to address, such as replacing a stop sign that was ripped out by the tornado at a blind intersection, Douglas said.

Day care also is a vital service that government agencies should include in their emergency operations plans, she said, adding it allows parents to return to work and make repairs on their homes without worrying about their children being exposed to unsafe, post-storm conditions.

Public agencies should check their insurance policies to make sure their buildings are insured for the maximum value possible, "because you will need it," Douglas said.

The Northwood School Board accepted a negotiated claim of just less than $8 million from the State Fire and Tornado Fund in January to replace the school and contents lost in the tornado.

Douglas urged attendees to practice their emergency plans often, back up important records and keep financial reserves on hand, as insurance payments usually don't arrive overnight.

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Cass County Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Rogness said the presentation reinforced the roles and responsibilities emergency managers must keep in mind.

"We always think it's not going to happen to us. That's human nature," he said. "But the fact is it can happen to any community at any time."

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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