A Disaster

These people look at the James River devouring Highway 81 north of Yankton during September’s record flooding. At one point, only one of the six bridges crossing the river in Yankton County was open.

For flood and tornado victims in southeast South Dakota, including Yankton County, more help is on the way.

President Donald Trump has approved a federal disaster designation for the counties and American Indian reservations. The declaration, which includes both individual and public assistance, covers the period of Sept. 9-26.

Preliminary assessments total at least $17 million in requested federal assistance. This marks the fourth disaster declaration for South Dakota this year.

The presidential declaration signals the clearing of a major hurdle in seeking federal funding, according to Paul Scherschligt, the Yankton County emergency manager.

Yankton County sustained major damage from James River flooding during the September storms, he told the Press & Dakotan.

“It means big things for Yankton County,” he said. “The damage done to bridges, and things like that can now be (submitted) for damages. We also have houses that were totally destroyed because of flooding. This should open up more avenues for them, but there is nothing guaranteed.”

On Monday, Gov. Kristi Noem announced the presidential disaster declaration. The damage includes the three tornadoes that struck Sioux Falls and the extreme flooding in communities such as Madison and Mitchell.

“This is good news for South Dakota communities, and I’m grateful to President Trump for responding so quickly,” Noem said. “Every aspect of our South Dakota way of life has been impacted by this year’s devastating storms. We have a long way to go, but this will be helpful as we rebuild and recover.”

Total individual assistance damage is estimated at more than $8 million. Counties included in the request for individual assistance are Brookings, Charles Mix, Davison, Hanson, Hutchinson, Lake, Lincoln, McCook, Minnehaha, Moody and Yankton, along with the Flandreau Santee Sioux reservation and the Yankton Sioux traditional homeland.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Individual Assistance program provides grants to individuals and families for expenses related to home repairs and rental assistance.

Total public assistance damages are estimated at more than $8.8 million. Counties included in the request for public assistance are Aurora, Brookings, Brule, Charles Mix, Davison, Douglas, Gregory, Hanson, Hutchinson, Kingsbury, Lake, McCook, Miner, Minnehaha, Moody, Sanborn, Turner, Union, and Yankton along with the Yankton Sioux traditional homeland and the Flandreau Santee Sioux reservation.

FEMA’s Public Assistance program reimburses eligible state and local governments, and some non-profit entities, for damage to publicly owned infrastructure.

Much of southeast South Dakota received damage during the aftermath of the September storms, Scherschligt said.

“We had the big heavy rains that hit Mitchell with upwards of 14 inches of rainfall,” he said. “All of that water fell into the James River and ended up down here, which is where we got hit.”

The Yankton County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is providing basic information for those who sustained losses or damages during the Sept. 9-26 flood incident, according to Public Information Officer Cherie Hoffman.

“Citizens affected by the disaster can begin registering now for assistance. Assistance will be approved or denied on an individual basis,”’ she said. “There is no penalty for being denied for assistance, so citizens are highly encouraged to register even if they don’t feel their damages are enough.”

Types of assistance that can be provided include home repair, rental assistance if displaced, personal property loss, child care costs, medical bills, funeral bills and vehicle damage.

FEMA will also look to place a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) in Yankton County within the next few weeks, Hoffman said.

“This way, citizens can speak with federal and state representatives face to face and ask any questions they have,” she said. “We are currently coordinating this effort with FEMA and will reach out when we have more information to share.”

Scherschligt said he anticipates the Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) will again be located in the Yankton County OEM office, as it was earlier this year. He looks for the DRC to open in 10-14 days to serve flood victims.

He emphasized the new disaster declaration only covers the September flooding.

“This declaration has nothing to do with the March 13 disaster — that’s done. We figure those damages ran around $20 million for Yankton County,” he said. “For this new disaster, we had 60-some calls to our 211 helpline in September. We received calls from all along the James River.”

Those who called into the 211 helpline don’t need to make another call to report their damages, Scherschligt said. “Those people are already in the database,” he said.

The September damage reports from the general public played a key role in establishing Yankton County far beyond the dollar threshold for qualifying for disaster assistance, Scherschligt said.

“We had 36 hours that sustained major destruction. We used the FEMA matrix and the number of houses destroyed, and we figure the county had about $1.4 million in individual losses for property damage,” he said. “The public losses, for things like the county, cities and townships, were an estimated $200,000 to $300,000. But all of these figures can change when FEMA comes back.”

The FEMA calculations may be different than the individual homeowner, Scherschligt said.

“If you had a home along the James River worth $30,000 and it was three-quarters destroyed, it doesn’t mean you’ll received three-fourths of that amount,” he explained. “You have to meet with the FEMA folks to know how much they qualify for. It also opens up other avenues. For example, you might qualify for a ‘governor’s home’ (constructed by inmates at Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield) at a discount rate.”

When it comes to disaster applications, all counties and tribes follow the same procedure, he said. People with questions can contact their county or tribal emergency manager.

The application process from the March disaster is still continuing, Scherschligt said. Each government entity works with FEMA on its own losses, he added.

“We’re just finding out that some of our townships are having their first meeting with FEMA,” he said. “I’m working with (Yankton County highway superintendent) Mike Sedlacek and the other highway department personnel (on the March disaster).”

On Monday, South Dakota’s congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson — issued a joint press release applauding Trump’s decision to grant the presidential disaster declaration.

The delegation wrote to the president on Oct. 30, supporting Noem’s request, according to the press release.

“Families, business owners, farmers and ranchers have all been affected by these severe storms, tornadoes and floods that damaged homes and public infrastructure,” Noem said. “Recovery efforts will take years to complete, but these dollars will be incredibly helpful in that process.”

FEMA officials are now in South Dakota working on the state’s first three federal disaster declarations and will continue to work on the fourth.

More details on the process for the fourth disaster declaration will be announced at a later date.

Noem has designated the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Emergency Management as the lead state government agency for the disaster recovery.


To register for disaster assistance, call (800) 621-3362. Those seeking assistance will need to provide basic information as well as their Social Security Number, any private insurance information, address and ZIP code, phone number and basic directions to the home. In addition, you can also register online at www.disasterassistance.gov.

Yankton County residents with questions or seeking more information should contact the Office of Emergency Management at (605) 668-5289.

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.

(1) comment


We sure do love socialism when it affects South Dakota, don't we? No concern about the national debt and deficit from our "fiscally conservative" leaders now, is there? Sure looks like we aren't going to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps to fix our problems by ourselves. Nope, we are going to rely on those elitist coastal dollars to fix our problems. The hypocrisy in this state sure runs rampant.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.