Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Wall becomes refuge for hundreds of stranded holiday travelers

Pennington County Sheriffs Office
Wall's community center became a makeshift shelter for dozens of travelers when conditions took a turn for the life-threatening last week.

The town at the edge of Badlands National Park may be in its offseason, but dozens of families filled its motels to the brim and cots were set up in the local community center when a massive snowstorm hit the region just days before Christmas.

One of those families stranded in life-threatening conditions was that of Pennington County Commission Chair Gary Drewes.

“From Pierre to Wall it took us five hours," Drewes said. "We did see a lot of vehicles that were off in the median or stuck. We stopped at those and then we’d report those locations because I think it was minus-21, and then with the wind chill factor minus-50-plus something. So, concern was safety for those individuals.”

Drewes and his family ultimately arrived safely and stayed at a Wall motel.

Wall Mayor Mary Williams said the community was overwhelmed by travelers.

“We only have three motels open in the wintertime, and they filled immediately," Williams said. "One of our other motels opened up in about 20 minutes, but they only have 24 rooms, and we had way more people than that in town."

In total, more than 250 people across two nights had to sleep on cots at the makeshift shelter at Wall’s community center.

Williams said the community can learn from this situation.

“We certainly are taking notes on what went right and what we can do better," Williams said. "We will get an emergency plan in place, because I strongly feel we’re going to have another one or two these kinds of storms yet this year.”

Williams thanked the efforts of first responders, and said out-of-state travelers noted the hospitality displayed by South Dakotans through the storm.

Pennington County snow storm conditions.jpg
Pennington County Sheriff's Office
Snow piled up at an I-90 bridge in Pennington County when a snowstorm hit the region on Dec. 22, 2022.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering education, healthcare, arts and culture.