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North Dakota tornado prompts safety discussion


WATFORD CITY, N.D. (AP) - No sirens or local alert system warned an RV park housing workers in North Dakota's oil patch about a Memorial Day tornado that injured nine people and damaged or destroyed 15 trailers.

Even with warning, there are scant places to take cover in the wide-open plain.

Though such weather is rare in the area, officials say the twister already has prompted discussion among companies and others about how to better protect the thousands of workers who have taken to temporary homes as they cash in on the region's booming industry.

McKenzie County Emergency Manager Jerry Samuelson said oil companies have contacted him inquiring about shelters. He said the county might also discuss adding conditions to the zoning laws, though it might be cost prohibitive.

"We never had zoning laws in McKenzie County before the oil boom and now we do," he said. "And maybe that's something that needs to be incorporated into our zoning - if you're going to put up a big man camp up there, where is the shelter?"

The twister touched down about 7:50 p.m. Monday just south of Watford City, about 50 miles southeast of Williston. One of the nine people hurt was a 15-year-old girl who suffered critical injuries and was flown to a Minot hospital. The girl, who was visiting an aunt and uncle, was in an intensive-care unit but expected to survive, Samuelson said.

He did not release the girl's name or the community in which she lives. Eight other people were treated at a Watford City hospital for less serious injuries.

Tornadoes are rarely reported in McKenzie County, with only 14 since 1950, with no fatalities, according to weather service data. Monday's tornado was an EF-2 in strength on the 0-to-5 enhanced Fujita or EF scale, the weather service said, adding that preliminary information suggests the twister's winds peaked at 120 mph.

Many who have come to the area looking for work in wake of the oil boom live in hastily assembled trailer parks, known as man camps, which house prefabricated structures that resemble military barracks. Some companies rent blocks of hotel rooms for employees, and some workers sleep in their cars or in tents.

"The tornado was coming down the hill along our only escape route. There was nowhere for us to go. It was crazy," said Dan Yorgason, who lives in a neighboring workers' camp to the one destroyed and filmed the tornado from inside his truck.

Michael Smith said he used to live in the park that was destroyed but moved to Watford City four weeks ago. He said he got an alert on his phone and then barely heard the sirens from town because of the wind, rain and hail. He hunkered down in his trailer.

"Ain't no place to take cover," Smith said.

There are no statewide rules or restrictions governing crew camps, said Cecily Fong, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.

She said residents who live in housing that has inadequate shelter especially must pay close attention to severe weather warnings and seek appropriate shelter. The Watford City Civic Center is a designated emergency shelter.

"The individual also is duty bound and must heed warnings," Fong said.

It was not immediately known who owned the camp that was hit.

Target Logistics is the largest crew camp operator in the oil patch, with more than 5,000 workers in nine facilities. Company regional vice president Travis Kelley said a weather radio is monitored by staff at each facility. If a tornado is reported in the area, workers are "encouraged to come to common areas such as recreation or dining areas, which are fairly well protected right in the middle of the facility," he said.

Meterologist Ken Simosko said the growth of temporary housing means there is more of a chance for death, injury and destruction from tornadoes.

"People living in trailers creates a very dangerous situation because there is no protection," Simosko said.


Associated Press writer Carson Walker in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report. MacPherson reported from Bismarck.

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Richard May 27 2014 at 8:18 PM

Maybe Mother Nature is Pissed at the way people and their greed are destroying the ND landscape.

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5 replies
txbootz May 27 2014 at 8:42 PM

If you live in a trailer in the Midwest, you're at risk. Period.

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2 replies
orion15stars txbootz May 27 2014 at 11:06 PM

If you live on a farm, you're at risk. Anywhere out in the open is a risk from a tornado.

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1 reply
jimlabrue orion15stars May 28 2014 at 2:30 PM

You are in danger no matter where you live, as long as it is above ground. The highest recorded wind speeds on the face of the earth were in the 1999 F5 tornado that struck Norman, Oklahoma. That particular tornado touched down just outside the populated are southwest of OKC. It moved across a heavily populated area then continued into the sparsely populated area northeast of Norman. Tornadoes could care less what is on the ground in their way. Farm land or densely populated city, tornadoes form when atmospheric conditions are met. Primarily: warm, moist air at low levels and cool, dry air at mid levels traveling in converging directions. There are a few other conditions but space is limited. Topography has a little to do with it, but not much.

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Kathy txbootz May 28 2014 at 8:21 AM

North Dakota is not the midwest. It is North Central, and the article said tornados are rare there. So how can you be at risk in an area that hardly gets tornados? I live in Connecticut and we got a large tornado in 1986 near where we live. In areas where you don't get tornados hardly ever, or not as big, you don't think about tornado cellars.

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2 replies
jimlabrue Kathy May 28 2014 at 12:19 PM

Actually, Kathy, ND is part of the Mid West. The definition was changed in June of 1984 and the North Central region you refer to is now part of it. As for the rarity of tornadoes in North Dakota, there have been 1440 of them since 1950, when accurate data started to be collected. You can check my numbers by going to www.tornadohistoryproject.com and look up North Dakota. Now, 22 per year may not seem like a lot to you, but to anyone in the path of one of these things, ONE is too many. You are correct in that few people think of the dangers where they live if they are rare. The fact that tornadoes happen EVERYWHERE om the face of the earth should give people a bit of concern. The problem with areas that seem them rarely is that they are very ill prepared to deal with them when they do appear. There is a 15 year old in the hospital, in critical condition, because no one thought 22 per year was significant. I hope this will open people eyes a little.

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manitouharbor Kathy May 28 2014 at 12:30 PM

Call it what makes you feel good. It's still the Midwest and it's still flat in most areas.

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bob May 27 2014 at 7:42 PM

why not just dig a 15x 15 cement lined safe room in the ground with steel doors and locks,you could put 50 in each,and after the tornado passes in 5 seconds they can safely come out,its real easy,real cheap and it will save lives dahhhhhhhhhhhh

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5 replies
brisedemer May 28 2014 at 7:46 AM

Personally, I think that those who own mobile home / RV parks ( if they are in a known tornado or hurricane area ) should be REQUIRED to provide a community storm shelter. They aren't terribly expensive to build ( cement structures can be above ground ) and they save lives.

In fact, any laundry facility or storage facility can be constructed so that it doubles as a shelter should the need arise.

I don't know why it's not already required. These people KNOW that they live in an area where natural disasters happen regularly. They KNOW that mobile homes don't stand a chance if they are hit .... I can't imagine NOT having a structure where people can find shelter if the need arises.

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3 replies
debbie May 28 2014 at 6:30 AM

It lies with the company hiring the people to do work for them to make sure they have not only shelter but a place to go to for emergencies.... these folks are trying to survive in a hostile environment as it is up there...the oil companies are making profits hand over fist and they need to give back to the area they are getting those profits from... building shelters for emergencies should be number one prority!

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2 replies
Parris debbie May 28 2014 at 8:01 AM

but they want less government interference... and the Government would make this a requirement for the corporation...

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1 reply
susiehill3 Parris May 28 2014 at 10:31 AM


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manitouharbor debbie May 28 2014 at 12:32 PM

Well, it's only hostile in the winter, the rest of the time it's just dangerous.

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ffjsb May 28 2014 at 8:24 AM

Is there no one with a shred of common sense???? All you need is a programmable weather alert radio. You can get these for as low as $30, and they can be programmed to respond to alerts where ever you travel. A tornado siren is a huge waste of money in a place like that. It's one of the first things we bought when we moved to a rural area. People, be responsible for your own safety.

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Joebudgie May 27 2014 at 8:34 PM

My wife, son and I were going to camp at a KOA near Orlando for a weekend and visit Disney World about 30 years ago. When we arrived Saturday afternoon it was almost dark and very rainy so we picked a camping spot and parked our VW camper. Because of the late arrival hour and the rain we decided to just sleep in the van that night and not bother with the tent until morning. All night we heard the rain and felt the wind buffeting. In the morning we woke up to see massive damage within 50 yards of our camper. It was still drizzling but we scurried about first taking care of bathroom chores then a hasty breakfast while we looked around. I went in to the office to check in and pay for our space and saw several camper vehicles, cars and tents turned up every which way and a path of fallen trees, some of them pretty big. The office staff didn't admit to any injuries if they knew of any but there had to be some although I didn't hear any sirens from emergency vehicles. We decided not to stay another night.

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1 reply
orion15stars Joebudgie May 27 2014 at 11:07 PM

Hurricane. Florida is one of the hurricane alley ocean fronts.

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1 reply
EnolaGrey orion15stars May 28 2014 at 11:24 AM

Florida also has tornados

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Blessed May 28 2014 at 2:18 AM

First, I am so happy no one was killed and I DO Pray for the sanity of all involved because living through a tornado affects people in different ways and there's no wrong or right way of going on once you 've heard/ seen / felt the thing so chin up and you will get past it when you are ready in your own right time. Just be glad you're here to deal with it. That being said, these are OIL companies who put up the dwellings for the workers. SOMEONE is leasing the land to them ( ie; collecting taxes from oil corps ) so why not advise those companies that unless they build a common, sufficient shelter on the off chance of severe weather coming about again-they will be denied drilling rights! THEN see how fast they build adequate shelter AND alarm systems!

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1 reply
Kathy Blessed May 28 2014 at 8:36 AM

It is ridiculous to require companies to build shelter for their workers on the rare chance they MIGHT have a tornado! I understand that you(may have?) been through one and understand how severe they can be, but that woulld ,first off make it almost impossible for companies to try and hire workers.In the New England area where I live we rarely have tornados, and even less do we have big tornados. We have weather alert systems but not tornado specific. And most houses in the area are built with basements, but again, not specifically for tornados.

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2 replies
jslrsj Kathy May 28 2014 at 9:58 AM

lets not built nothing for anyone, just let them died as the GOP would say.

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hellyon3too Kathy May 28 2014 at 11:22 AM

You are aware, are you not, that tornadoes are not the only weather event someone living in a tent or RV might need to take shelter from?

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Richard May 27 2014 at 9:11 PM

Trailers are natural Tornado magnets.

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1 reply
orion15stars Richard May 27 2014 at 11:05 PM

How far has that myth spread and never seems to end in the days of advanced science knowledge? Lightening is highly attached to any metal which can magnetized and water.

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BOB May 27 2014 at 10:43 PM

Tornado and mobile homes ... I'm starting to wonder if RV's and trailers have a magnetic pull on tornados to them

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2 replies
BOB BOB May 27 2014 at 10:44 PM

BARNS .... I forgot about barns ..... MY BAD

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orion15stars BOB May 27 2014 at 11:02 PM

They are out in the open not congregated in urban areas where heat and smog pollution, including tons of CO2 pollution, build up and rise to divert tornadoes for those areas.

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1 reply
ameliabelladonna orion15stars May 28 2014 at 11:51 AM

Then China and India must NEVER get tornados!

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