No fatalities reported as community comes together for massive cleanup and dig-out efforts
By Sherry Vogel
June 11, 2016 will go down in Fallon County history as ‘the day a tornado struck Baker.’ Baker was hit by an F-3 tornado at about 6:35 p.m. on Saturday, injuring seven residents while demolishing at least two houses and damaging up to 50 more homes. The National Weather Service issued tornado alerts earlier in the day stating, “severe thunderstorms containing large hail, damaging winds, and a few tornados would be possible each afternoon and evening into mid week over portions of the central and northern high plains.”
A short time before the tornado touched down, the Baker Little League was playing softball on the softball field at the south end of the lake. Whereas at the neighboring country club, fifty golfers were unwinding after a days long golf tournament. In addition, the local fairground, which is also in close proximity to the tornado’s ‘ground zero’, was hosting the Montana State High School Rodeo Finals. Approximately 900 people, from across the state, were seated under an outdoor covered grandstand enjoying the evening performances only a few minutes before the tornado hit down.
Tornado hits Baker neighborhood
At approximately 6:37 p.m. an ominous dark cloud was sighted suddenly hovering over a five mile radius southeast of Baker. According to the National Weather Service, the inter-perimeters of this massive swirling cloud churned at 140-150 mph as it labored to funnel out.
It was later deemed a F-3 tornado by officials at the weather service. While county disaster sirens wailed the alert, many local residents stood by nonchalantly, snapping pictures with their cell phones or recording video footage of this awe inspiring event, as it unfolded in front of their very eyes. Unbeknown to anyone, this tornado made a destructive tail downward destroying an entire east side neighborhood in Baker. Seven Baker residents were injured, two homes were totally wiped out and many others sustained excessive damages according to responders on the scene. Thirty to fifty homes have been affected resulting in ten to twelve people being displaced. A few residents found refuge in local motels while the majority stayed with family or friends.
Shelly Melby sent in this video of the tornado.
First responders take action
The city blocks located between South 5th Street east and South 10th Street east intersected by Texas Ave. were hit the hardest and sustained the most damage. The area of devastation resembled a ‘war zone.’ Piles of rubble stood in the place of two homes, while twelve to fifteen others were missing their roof, windows or out buildings. Personal property, household items and chunks of glass were strewn across the landscape. Pieces of shredded insulation hanging from naked trusses danced eerily in the wind. Snarled curtains flapped wildly in unison as they struggled to break free from shattered windows. Many broken and leaning power poles left live wires coiled on the ground. Singletree trunks stood alone and barren, resembling matchsticks, as they had been stripped of all branches and leaves. Emergency response teams were working the scene as they systematically moved from home to home searching for survivors. Neighbors and response teams were frantically trying to take a head count to discover any known missing among the casualties.
Paramedics, with the help of volunteers, were placing the wounded upon gurneys to be evacuated to Fallon Medical Complex. MDU personnel with the help of the Baker Fire Dept. were busy locating and shutting off gas lines, while others disabled downed electric wires. Law enforcement issued a call to all surrounding area first response emergency teams for mutual aid. Over seventy personnel came with ‘boots on ground’ from the surrounding tri-state area. The communities of Plevna, Ekalaka, and Wibaux, Montana, Marmarth, Rhame, Bowman, and Beach, North Dakota and Ludlow, South Dakota were in force.
Emergency crews secured off the area. They worked into the night making a second sweep through the ravaged neighborhood. They marked each dwelling with a yellow ribbon to signify an “all clear zone.” The search yielded no fatalities and no additional casualties. Soon after the first strike, local sirens began to sound a second alarm, forewarning the public of two more impending tornados. Many found shelter in basements, bathrooms or public fallout shelters. The city was on high alert far into the night. Although a third tornado did not come to fruition, it was a harried night for many. The majority of the city was without power till 2:OO a.m. The Fallon County Library basement was set-up as the Fallon County Emergency Operative Center that filtered all incoming information. The response to this massive emergency was impressive, as the City, County, American Red Cross of Baker, volunteers from the public and private sector and neighbors jumped in to lend a helping hand. Many individuals came together to meet the needs of the moment. The Plevna Fire Department and the Custer County Sheriff’s Department stayed on an additional two days to assist with continued security and to begin the massive cleanup.
Tornado Photo Gallery: