Brookings without power after derecho hits; buildings damaged in city and in Arlington

Symmone Gauer Alfonzo Galvan
Sioux Falls Argus Leader

Residents of Brookings and Arlington are out and working to repair the damage caused by a series of severe storms that moved their way through southeastern South Dakota on Thursday afternoon.

Brookings still without power

Brookings was still without power as of Friday evening, and city officials don't expect it to return until sometime Saturday. For now, all stop lights are being treated as four-way stops and most businesses are closed.

Cars lined up and down the street at the open gas stations in Volga, just seven miles west of Brookings, as people came from Brookings trying to get gas and food.

South Dakota State University announced on social media that their Brookings campus will be closed due to power loss and recovery efforts, and the university said an announcement for the reopening of campus would be made at a later time.

Lee Gilkerson saws at the large tree that fell in front of his house on Friday, May 13. The house, which is near SDSU's campus in Brookings, used to belong to his great, great grandfather, Neil Hanson, who was a well-known horticulturist at SDSU. Gilkerson said he was looking out the window during the storm the night before, shocked at how dark it had gotten, when he saw the whoosh of the branches falling down.

More:Gov. Noem, Mayor Paul TenHaken to provide updates on storm damage and response: Live at 10 a.m.

Brookings residents were also advised on Friday morning to conserve water to help with the wastewater treatment plant, which is running on alternate energy to pump water. 

Like many places in southeastern South Dakota, there was substantial tree damage throughout the entire Brookings community. 

“The windstorm wasn’t picky about what it hit” said Brookings Mayor Oepke Niemeyer.

A tree fell onto a house in Brookings after a storm moved through May 12, 2022.

A steel structure out at the airport was destroyed, as were a couple of county sheds that are now piles of debris littering Pioneer Park on the west side of town. 

The city had to open its community shelter, which was maxed out with people, but no residential structures suffered major damage, said Brookings City Manager Paul Briseno.

They said they will start a neighborhood cleanup on Monday, and residents were asked to pile debris on city boulevards and not put branches in their brown yard waste containers at this time. The landfill is also open for people to take their debris. 

The scene in Arlington

In Arlington, most houses were missing shingles on the roofs, and several trees had fallen over or were uprooted all over the town. But for the most part, residential buildings fared better than businesses. 

A crew of community members work to repair Calvary Free Lutheran Church in Arlington on May 13 after a major storm blew away the roof in two sections of the building the night before.

The Calvary Free Lutheran Church, for example, had two major sections of the roof blow away in the storm. Men from the community were working on restoring it Friday afternoon. 

One of the large grain elevators and two grain bins were torn apart, and fences, signs and metal sheets from buildings lay on the side of the roads around the community.

“It’s a mess, but we’ll get through it," said Arlington Mayor Curt Lundquist.

After a storm went through Brookings Thursday night, wood and metal debris litters Pioneer Park on May 13.

Luckily, injuries were limited in both Brookings and Arlington, and there had been no reported casualties from the storm, as far as city officials knew.

“We did see a few patients come in last night related to the storm," said Jeremy Mollet at Avera in Brookings, "but nothing the team wasn’t able to handle."

Lundquist mentioned one resident was brought to the Arlington's municipal building during the outage so he could use their backup generator for his oxygen tank, but that was the only major issue. The power also came back on in Arlington at about 11 p.m. Thursday.

Many business buildings in Arlington, South Dakota, suffered damage on May 13 after a storm came through Thursday night.

More:Was the storm that hit South Dakota on Thursday a derecho? And what is a haboob?

The calm after the storm

When speaking with the Argus Leader on Friday about what they experienced during the storm, residents of Brookings and Arlington seemed mostly at peace with what happened and were grateful things weren't worse.

"Luckily everyone's okay, and that's all that matters," said Kari Williams of Arlington, whose house was crushed by a tree.

In both Brookings and Arlington, residents were out walking or riding their bikes on Friday, often stopping to see the damage done in other parts of the town and to help their neighbors and friends clean up the trees in their yards. 

From left, Axel Borah (8) and his brother August (4) climb on the large tree that fell into the yard of their family friend on Friday, May 13. The tree fell during a storm that hit Brookings the night before.

There were several groups of community members driving around together and doing what they could to help others. 

“If there's a bright lining," Lundquist said, "it’s that it's really amazing how a community comes together like this after a disaster."