SOUTH DAKOTA: Bishop appeals to Episcopal Relief and Development after ice storms down 3,000 power lines
Ice storms downed an estimated 3,000 utility poles, leaving about 30,000 residents in two communities without water, electricity or heat for at least a week, said Randy Barnhardt, diocesan canon to the ordinary, during a Feb. 5 telephone interview from his Sioux Falls office.
"We are gathering relief funds and have designated Feb. 14 as a day for all the churches in this diocese to help with ice storm relief," he added.
The diocese had been able to disburse about $2,000 for purchase of propane gas for those with propane heaters. "But you can't help 30,000 people with $2,000, so we do the best we can," he said.
Tribal Chairman Joe Brings Plenty declared a state of emergency on the reservation, which is about the size of the state of Connecticut and encompasses 14 Episcopal congregations.
"The loss of electricity has also knocked out the reservation's aging water system," said the tribal chairman, who had also asked the federal government to declare a state of emergency on the reservation. "We have no running water on the entire reservation, it is also affecting reservation communities such as Faith, whose water is supplied from pipes running through the reservation," he added.
Meanwhile, snow continued to fall Friday and another storm system was on the way, said Virginia Traverfie, senior warden of Emmanuel Church in White Horse, who lives on the reservation.
"We just got power back yesterday, but still no water," she said. "We've had people staying with us for the last five days. They just went home."
Still, she said, the church community mobilized to assist others. "The church is about a mile from us. For people who didn't have food, we took what we had there and together with coffee, sugar, whatever we had, we passed it out to the community here," she said.
Tribal leaders have set up shelters for those still without power, she said. "There are power lines laying everywhere. It hit the whole reservation really bad."
But she said she is resilient. "We have to go outside and get snow and melt it for our bathrooms, and for doing dishes.
"We had a church meeting in Pierre and so I took my laundry and while my husband went to the meeting, I did my laundry," she said.
The Rev. Rob Schwarz, priest-in-charge at St. Peter's Church at the Standing Rock Episcopal Mission in McLaughlin, South Dakota, said he, like everyone else, shared resources. That included making available his household laundry facilities as well as food and water. He even dog-sat for a couple temporarily displaced from their home.
"Many people lost what was in their freezers and refrigerators. A good number of people's pipes burst when they froze," he added.
St. Peter's is the only church in the area with plumbing, he said. He said that the reservation has an estimated 70 percent unemployment rate and an average annual household income of $7,000. The average male life expectancy is 46 years of age.
"What I mean by that [is] people are pretty much used to making do and getting by. So, people got together in homes that had heat and that sort of thing. People came here and washed clothes. We even had a dog with us for a week or so."
He said he was unaware of any fatalities because of the storms but added that the Rev. Hazel Redbird had suffered a broken leg from a fall.
"People here live at the margins and have been marginalized in every way, shape and form," he said. "On the one hand, they're pretty flexible and resilient. On the other hand, something like this, for a family that's struggling, can prove to be the straw that breaks the camel's back."
Barnhardt said that while the situation feels "very bleak," especially with another storm expected, "there are a lot of positives, too. We have a new bishop with a vision of ministry and of youth ministry."
A press release issued by the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation said the tribe is also working to bring families out of the cold and into shelters. The South Dakota National Guard, the state Department of Public Safety, and the Army Corps of Engineers have supplied some emergency generators.
But according to the release, food, medical supplies and additional generators are needed. The tribe's one and only grocery store lost all perishables. Dialysis patients are also being evacuated three hours away, to Rapid City.
Richard Hoff, western regional Episcopal Relief & Development representative, said that help is on the way from the church-wide disaster relief agency.
He said the agency had already sent funds, earmarked specifically for food, water and sanitation and to fix broken pipes. He said that funds are being made available to North Dakota as well.
The Diocese of South Dakota encompasses 76 congregations in South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota.