A tornado hit Burke, South Dakota, in Gregory County, on Tuesday, Aug. 6, injuring two people and destroying buildings, including at the public school, according to the National Weather Service and city officials.
Gov. Kristi Noem was slated to visit Burke on Wednesday afternoon.
The tornado hit Burke from about 10:25 to 10:33 p.m., Aug. 6, covering 3.8 miles on the ground with a path as wide as 75 yards, according to the weather service.
Burke, a town of about 586 that is 125 miles southeast of Pierre, was closed to outsiders on Wednesday because of the storm damage and the need to aid the recovery process, city officials said via social media.
About noon, city officials told the public, via the city’s Facebook page: “You are not allowed in Burke at the moment unless you are emergency personnel.”
A main concern was the school, which lost large buildings to the tornado.
The Burke school board and administrators met at noon, Wednesday, “to discuss the next plan of action on when and where school will take place. We are waiting for insurance and contractors to come in and access our buildings. We know everyone wants to help but right now we ask that people just stay out.”
Gov. Noem posted a video on Facebook by evening Wednesday, showing her standing in front of a wrecked building in Burke, wearing a cap and denim jeans and shirt. Despite the destruction, she said a lot of progress was made Wednesday.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a community respond like this before,” Noem said. “Unfortunately we are very experienced at it this year.”
Noem said the tornado’s damage comes on the heels of widespread flooding and other weather-related issues across the state where already 58 of the 66 counties have had to declare emergencies because of disasters.
It means this year has seen more natural disasters than any in South Dakota’s history, Noem said.
The tornado is the fifth disaster to hit Burke and Gregory County this year, Noem said.
Which will save some paperwork, she said, because the counting up of the damage can be “wrapped up together” with two previous disaster aid applications.
Noem said the two people injured are doing well, although one underwent surgery Wednesday.
The other made a remarkable recovery after being pinned down with storm debris across his legs Tuesday night.
“I met him out in his yard picking up branches,” Noem said.
The tornado was part of a storm system that blew across much of central South Dakota, damaging crops and buildings and vehicles.
In Sully County and in Bowdle, South Dakota, hail the size of baseballs fell, according to residents who shared photos on social media, with corroboration from the weather service.
Winds as high as 78 mph hit a mile south-southwest of Blunt, 30 miles northeast of Pierre.
Hail 3 inches wide fell 8 miles north-northwest of Blunt and other areas down to the Big Bend along the Missouri River southeast of Pierre.
The storm mostly missed Pierre and Fort Pierre.
Extensive crop damage has been reported across the region.
According to the weather service: “During the evening hours of August 6, 2019, a cluster of severe thunderstorms moved across central South Dakota and into northern Nebraska. These severe storms produced dangerous hail greater than 3” along with damaging straight-line winds.
“As this storm moved into Gregory county in south central South Dakota, a tornado rapidly developed in town of Burke. This tornado produced significant damage to portions of the city center, including the school, civic center, local lumberyard and many surrounding businesses and homes. Weather service storm survey specialists rated this tornado as an EF-1, with peak wind speeds estimated at or near 110 mph, on the enhanced Fujita scale.”
In the early evening on Wednesday, Burke city officials posted a curfew announcement: “While we are all going through this difficult time, it is in the best interest of public safety, all residents are asked to remain off the streets from 8 p.m. tonight until 7 a.m. tomorrow morning. Thank you for all the help and support during today’s efforts.”
Burke is the hometown of Billie Sutton, longtime Democratic state senator who ran for governor in 2018, losing a hard-fought race to Gov. Noem.
It’s top official census was 892 people in 1970 and 604 were counted in 2010; Census officials estimated the population had declined to 586 by 2016.
The city has a historical link to a prominent Pierre family tied to the large community bank, BankWest.
Burke is named after early and longtime South Dakota Congressman, U.S. Rep. Charles H. Burke, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives most of the time from 1895 to 1915, including a stint as Minority whip for the Republicans. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1914 and lost. He was appointed federal Commissioner of Indian affairs in 1921 and served until 1929.
Family lore has it that in September 1889, two months before South Dakota became a state and about 15 years before the city of Burke was formed, New York native Charles H. Burke walked into a newly formed bank in Pierre as its first customer.
Burke, after his stint in Congress, became a director of the bank. His son, Walter Burke, in the 1920s, became the first of a long line of Burkes who worked for the bank that is led by “C3,” Charles Burke III, the great great grandson of Charles H. Burke. C3’s children are the fifth generation of Burkes who have worked for and/or led what is now known as BankWest with branches in several cities, according to bank officials.