Looking back at Sioux Falls tornadoes one year later

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — This week marks the one year anniversary of one of the most devastating storms ever to hit Sioux Falls. On September 10th of last year, the city was struck by three tornadoes in the dark of night; leaving a devastating path of destruction behind. It wasn’t until morning that people began to realize just how bad it was.

Avera Behavioral Health is just one of several businesses that suffered extensive damage when three EF-2 tornadoes tore through that part of the city almost one year ago.

The facility has its roof ripped off and shattered windows, and as scary as it was, the tornadoes couldn’t rattle the nerves of its employees.

“Several things flash into my head,” Vice President of Avera Behavioral Health Thomas Otten said.

Otten remembers it well.

“I got a phone call from one of my staff members who said, ‘we’ve been hit,” Otten said.

Otten says he quickly got up out of bed a drove over to the facility and knew right away there was a lot of damage, but he was more concerned about his staff and patients.

“Once I got to the main campus first thing I did is run a quick census report we had 108 patients that night, we knew we had a little bit of a math problem on our hands trying to fit 108 patients into 14 beds,” Otten said.

Otten credits his staff for keeping everyone safe by moving everyone to the interior parts of the building.

“They really couldn’t tell how much damage was done, but what they knew is ceiling tiles were, they had all fallen down and there were hanging wires,” Otten said.

Otten says he knew at that moment it would take a longtime before they would recover.

The damage wasn’t limited to just that area of town, though.

Homes were damaged, trees were down all across the city and other businesses along 41st Street, like the Pizza Ranch, were shredded by the violent tornadoes, that had only touched down for a few minutes.

The Rush Bar and Grill also suffered a lot of damage.

“It seemed kind of scary because my employee called and said the bar got hit all that kind of goes through your head was how bad was it and when we got here it was less damage than I thought, but it was pretty devastating everything you had worked for kind of gone all in one shot,” owner Alan Grey said

Grey says once they decided they were going to stay open and rebuild, the work began immediately.

But it wouldn’t be easy, because in the middle of rebuilding, COVID-19 hit.

Grey says in a lot of ways, one year flew by as the bar rushed to reopen once the city lifted its COVID-19 restrictions.

“With COVID-19 it seemed like we weren’t going to be able to reopen and then Sioux Falls opened back up, so we were like hey, we got to get going and get things going again,”Grey said.

The Rush has since rebuilt with a whole new look and business model.

“We were always kind of known as an upscale dive bar before because it’s just kind of been here for 27 years and been pieced together now we have all new flooring that all matches where before it was a hodge-podge and everybody is liking the new look and the new customers we are seeing,” Grey said.

Now a year later, Otten says one word comes to mind when he thinks back to that terrifying night: grateful.

“It was an amazing story of recovery that night, our staff did an amazing job of getting all the patients into the interior corridors if they had not done that when you watch the camera footage of what happened on those units there most certainly would have been serious injuries if not fatalities,” Otten said.

It’s been on year, but the Behavioral Health Center is still not back to normal, not quite.

“We are incredibly grateful that the staff did exactly what they were trained to do and very thankful that we are now at a place where the building is almost back together we have just the outdoor playground equipment that’s not in yet that was damaged in the tornado, short of that everything else in the construction process is pretty much done,” Otten said.

by Don Jorgensen (2020, Sept 9)

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Kyrie Wagner