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Gazette Premium Content Video: Weather service team to rate North Dakota tornado; teen in critical condition

Associated Press Updated: May 27, 2014 at 10:01 am

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Investigators headed to western North Dakota on Tuesday to assess the strength of a tornado that injured nine people, including a 15-year-old girl who suffered critical injuries, and damaged or destroyed 15 trailers at a workers' camp in the heart of the state's booming oil patch.

The twister touched down about 7:50 p.m. Monday at a camp just south of Watford City, about 30 miles southeast of Williston. The girl was flown to a Minot hospital. McKenzie County Emergency Manager Jerry Samuelson said early Tuesday that he didn't know the nature of her injuries.

Samuelson said he did not know why the girl, whom he didn't name, was at the worker camp but that "families do live out there."

Eight other people were treated for lesser injuries at a Watford City hospital. The American Red Cross said eight residents spent the night at a shelter at the Civic Center in Watford City and that several families were among those displaced.

Plywood and other debris was scattered across several hundred square feet at the site on Tuesday morning. Four trailers and a couple of other prefabricated buildings were still standing.

It was cool and rainy at the site and there was very little activity. A heavily damaged truck was flipped over on the highway and several other abandoned vehicles were nearby. Road signs were flattened and tumbleweeds pushed up against some electrical wires.

National Weather Service meteorologist Todd Hamilton said two meteorologists and an emergency response specialist left Bismarck at daybreak Tuesday to survey the damage at the camp. He said the agency should be able to rate the tornado on the enhanced Fujita scale later in the day.

"The only pictures we've seen, we're seeing some trailers moved around," Hamilton said. "You can't really discern that much from pictures."

It is likely that only one tornado touched down Monday night, although there were reports of several funnel clouds alongside baseball-sized hail, Hamilton said.

More storms were moving through the region early Tuesday but the chance of more tornadoes was small, Hamilton said.

Karen Holte, a volunteer at an American Red Cross shelter, said the tornado descended so quickly that nobody had time to take shelter. Samuelson said all the injured had been inside their trailers.

The situation could have been worse given that some worker camps in the county host hundreds of trailers, he said.

Tony Beyda, who suffered a head wound and cuts on his arm, said he saw something flying toward him as the twister slammed into his home. He pulled back the bandage on his forehead to show how the skin had been stapled back onto his head.

"It peeled it back pretty good," he said.

William Bunkel, a trucker, was in Watford City when the storm hit. Bunkel, 38, said he had just moved his vehicle inside because of large hail when he spotted the funnel cloud in the distance. He estimated it stayed on the ground for about a minute.

The oil boom has brought tens of thousands of people into the area looking for work. Many live in hastily assembled trailer parks, known as man camps, housing pre-fabricated structures that resemble military barracks. Some companies rent blocks of hotel rooms for employees, and some workers sleep in their cars or tents.

Housing developments are constantly popping up but they are not keeping pace with demand, and oil money has pushed rents to among the highest in the nation: A simple one bedroom apartment in Williston can easily cost $2,000 per month in rent. Even a spot to park a trailer can cost over $800 per month.

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Associated Press writers Blake Nicholson in Bismarck and Carson Walker in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.

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Contact Wood at https://twitter.com/JWoodAP and Walker at https://twitter.com/carsonjw

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