By Senator John ThuneSouth Dakotans are no strangers to the beauty and bounty Mother Nature can provide – landscapes, cropland, and seemingly endless outdoor recreation – and the devastation she can wreak – floods, blizzards, tornados, long winter storms, and summer droughts. These are facts of life in South Dakota. Generations before us not only persevered in the Great Plains through natural disasters and ever-changing weather patterns, they prospered. We’re doing the same today in South Dakota.
Delmont is the latest community to face adversity, as they continue to deal with the aftermath of an EF-2 tornado that hit on May 10. The tornado destroyed homes, businesses, and community buildings, but thankfully no lives were lost during the storm. The long path to recovery continues today for many of the 200 South Dakotans who call Delmont home.
Last weekend’s storm is a good reminder that the government has an important role to play in preparing for and responding to natural disasters. Severe weather watches and warnings ahead of potentially dangerous storms help communities prepare for the worst, while they hope for the best. When those hopes are not realized, federal disaster assistance helps communities rebuild after the storm strikes.
Like any federal program, federal disaster assistance programs can be improved, too. I’m working every day to do so. Over the past few years, I’ve helped enact permanent, standing agriculture disaster assistance that provides help to producers when disasters strike, rather than years later when Congress may or may not choose to enact ad hoc disaster assistance.
Today in the Senate, I’m working to modernize our National Weather Service through my proposal to redirect taxpayer resources away from supporting outdated bureaucracies and toward improving the accuracy of severe weather watches and warnings and modernizing how those warnings are communicated in the Internet age.
However, while these services are critical, federal programs play only a small role in rebuilding South Dakota communities in the wake of disasters. In Delmont, first responders were on the ground before the clouds had even cleared – despite the fire hall being completely destroyed by the tornado. Neighbors are helping neighbors search for belongings scattered across the county. South Dakotans are driving from miles away to help the recovery and serve food at an area shelter. Families whose homes were spared by the storm are opening their doors to friends and relatives who were not as fortunate. And although the walls of the 100-year old Lutheran church were completely destroyed, the congregation was strengthened, and will no doubt continue to serve the people of Delmont for the next 100 years.
South Dakota is routinely ranked among the most charitable states in the country. We understand that for as strong as Mother Nature can be, our communities and our families are even stronger. The people of Delmont will need that generosity once again.