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Gazette Premium Content Officials tour SD towns hit by natural disasters

Associated Press Updated: June 26, 2014 at 9:30 pm

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota's top leaders on Thursday toured two towns that are still recovering from natural disasters that shook their communities last week.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard visited Wessington Springs to see the recovery progress after a tornado that hit the town last week, while Lt. Gov. Matt Michels toured flooded areas of Canton, which received more than 8 inches of rain in one day.

In Wessington Springs, the governor told KDLT-TV he'll never forget the chaotic scene just hours after the tornado destroyed dozens of homes and businesses.

"When I got here, it was pitch black. We had generator power here at the fire hall and there were a few other remote spots; I think the hospital had generator power. Otherwise the city was absolutely dark," he said.

A week later, Daugaard said morale is improving in the small southeastern South Dakotan town.

"I think we've really got some good local leadership here in Wessington Springs."

The debris that filled the streets the last week has been cleared, but Daugaard said there's still a long way to go. One of the biggest challenges is figuring out what to do with all the damaged and destroyed homes.

"We have (Federal Emergency Management Agency) estimators here in town today, and they're going house by house and evaluating the damage," he said.

George Betz, a FEMA responder who was in Wessington Springs on Thursday, said their assessment will determine how much federal assistance the town will receive.

In Canton, about 1,100 homes were affected by the flood, with 143 calling the helpline the city is using to coordinate volunteers with homeowners, the Argus Leader reported.

Michels said homeowners should put their health in front of their pride when it comes to calling the helpline. Several homes have reached the point of being a health hazard because of standing water, according to the newspaper.

Individual homeowner's insurance does not typically cover flood damage, so many are also in need of financial assistance.

The city will be doing a preliminary damage assessment to calculate how much money it could receive from the state and federal government, the newspaper reported.

Michels said if the damage meets the threshold, the city could receive about 75 percent of the necessary funding from the federal government to help with road and city structure repair.

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