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Buildings destroyed, 1 person injured after tornado hits small South Dakota town

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WESSINGTON SPRINGS, S.D. - A tornado hit a small town in central South Dakota on Wednesday night, damaging homes, destroying several businesses and injuring one person, according to the National Weather Service and local officials.

Meteorologist Todd Heitkamp said law enforcement in Wessington Springs reported the tornado went right "through the heart of town" just before 8 p.m.

Dedrich Koch, a county prosecutor who serves as a spokesman for the city during emergency operations, said late Wednesday night that everyone in town had been accounted for.

Koch said the tornado alarms in the city sounded several times and allowed residents to head to the city's emergency shelter that is located in the basement of the courthouse. He said three businesses were destroyed and 11 or 12 houses are inhabitable.

"Right now we are securing areas and keeping people from going in out the damaged areas," Koch said. "We'll assess damage and cleanup in the morning when we get some light."

Among the businesses destroyed were the American Legion, a bar and an auto dealer, and several farms were damaged.

Lindsey Meyers, spokeswoman for Avera Health, which operates the hospital in Wessington Springs, said one patient in good condition is being treated as a result of the tornado.

Meyers said the hospital has some broken windows and is operating on backup power.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard issued a statement saying that he deployed 100 South Dakota National Guard soldiers and equipment to Wessington Springs. Daugaard arrived in the town, which is about 125 miles northwest of Sioux Falls and has a population of about 1,000, late Wednesday.

Koch said most of the displaced families are spending the night with relatives or other members of the community. He added that the city will remain without power overnight but backup generators were available. He also said the Red Cross will be providing bedding and food services for those in need.

Jaime Hoefert, of Wessington Springs, told KELO-TV she saw the tornado move over hills and through the town.

"We did see at least three homes destroyed with lots of structural damage around that area on the south side of town," Hoefert said.

Father Jim Friedrich said the Catholic church in town was not affected by the tornado. He said people in the community are thankful that nobody was seriously injured.

"We do see our blessings right away," said Friedrich, who's been preaching at St. Joseph's Catholic Church for eight years. "It was very serious damage. What it hit, it hit very hard. That's just why we are thankful that there was good warning."

Multiple calls to the Jerauld County Sheriff's Office rang busy, and calls to the county emergency management office went unanswered.

National Weather Service meteorologist Philip Schumacher said two other confirmed tornadoes had touched down nearby in South Dakota: one near the city of Lane and another near Alpena. He also said another tornado had touched down in Marshall, Minnesota.

There were no reports of damage from those tornadoes, he said.

Schumacher said tornado watches are in effect for southern Minnesota until 4 a.m. CDT.

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