People in Delmont are marking the anniversary of a tornado that tore through the tiny town. The storm struck mid-morning on May 10, 2015. No one died, but several people were hurt, and the storm brought widespread damage to the southeast South Dakota community. Some residents are still rebuilding while others have left for good.
One year ago, crews used machines to shove massive piles of broken boards, downed trees, and debris off the streets of Delmont. A tornado toppled cars, shattered windows, and decimated city landmarks.
Mae Gunnare was mayor at the time. She says pieces of people’s lives no longer scatter across the road, but the EF-2 twister left scars where houses once stood.
"We’ve got weeds coming now again. There’s no trees, and I would say the hardest thing that I personally deal with is that I don’t have the neighbors have chosen to live elsewhere," Gunnare says. "But, you know, it’s a new chapter in their life, and I respect that."
Gunnare says the tornado destroyed more than 40 homes in town, and nine families chose to rebuild in Delmont. She says residents refuse to give up on their community.
"We’re looking at some empty lots, but we do have a house on each block that’s new," Gunnare says. "The new fire hall is rebuilt, all new fire trucks, so that’s an addition. With the church rebuilding, we’ll have some more building in town, so we’re looking forward to seeing that on our main street again."
Gunnare says leaders one year later are looking to reunite people with belongings rescued from the rubble.
"We have a flag. It was a military flag – it appears to be, anyway. We have some jewelry that we just discovered it too in some boxes, so we’d like to find homes for them," Gunnare says.
Gunnare says people who live in Delmont recognize they could have lost more than property and possessions. She says they’re grateful for people who helped in the tornado’s wake.
"Our Sunday school teachers and children that were in that church – if they’d have been on that east end, they probably wouldn’t be with us today. They were on the west end of that church, and that’s what saved them," Gunnare says. "We need to celebrate that we are here, and the other part of this is it’s a celebration of thank you to everyone who came in and, in any way, how they helped Delmont – I mean, whether it was serving food, donating food, items, the debris. I mean, we had a gentleman here for six weeks that hauled debris out to the rubble site for us."
Tuesday's commemoration includes a ringing of bells at 10:45 a.m. marking the moment the storm hit. The newly rebuilt fire hall is also available for tours. The town is hosting safety activities, a thank you meal, and a tornado alley walk or ride so people can follow the twister’s path through town.