On July 8, 2009, eight tornados were confirmed to have touched down in North Dakota. Most were rated EF0 or EF1, but there was one that proved to be much stronger. This one traveled through the south end of Dickinson producing damage related to an EF3 tornado. From that damage, it was determined that the tornado was more than likely rain-wrapped with peak wind speeds upwards of 150+ mph. Greg Wilkinson felt that rain and witnessed those winds.
Said to have lasted only 15 minutes in total duration, Wilkinson recalls what had happened to him and his family of five as if it happened only yesterday.
He states he had just gotten home from getting his son a new video game, and was outside standing on his steps talking to his neighbors. At that time, his wife came out and told him it was supposed to start hailing and that he better come inside. “From the moment I went in, it was less than a minute to when it hit,” recalls Wilkinson. “What we think happened was my roof came off of my house and into my neighbor’s house and just about got them. It was that close to when we got the kids into the house and down into the laundry room.” He remembers the power going out and the laundry room door shaking and rattling uncontrollably, and then getting wet. What had happened is that when the roof came off, the cabinets dropped, and the water lines broke. “I still didn’t realize at that point it was a tornado. “I remember under my steps was full of Christmas stuff and boxes of storage. I grabbed that stuff and tossed it across the room. I was trying to get my wife, Stacy, and my kids (ages 9, 7 and 2 at the time) as far under the steps as possible in the little time that we had.” Wilkinson stumbled for the breaker in the dark to turn it off and then turned to shut off the gas line. “All of this happened in seconds… Then it really got scary. It got really loud. It was a helpless feeling.”
He said that while people refer the sound of a tornado to a freight train, he said it couldn’t compare. “I kept thinking ‘well, what are we going to do next.’ I remember there were cabinets built into the laundry room, thinking if the roof above us blows off, where are we going to go. So I looked at those cabinets, full of board games and paint cans, I was going to stick the kids inside the cabinets. And just when I started to get rid of that stuff inside the cabinets, things just got really quiet really quick. It just stopped.”
Wilkinson recalls wanting to get to a phone and opened the laundry room door to get his cell phone that was left upstairs. “I opened the laundry room door to go up the stairs. When I went to go up the stairs, it looked like it was snowing down the stairwell. It was the blow-in insulation from my house floating down the stairs.” As he turned to go up the stairs, he noticed he could see the sky. At that point, he didn’t know that he had lost the entire room. After getting to the top step, he finally realized that the entire roof was gone.
After getting upstairs and getting to his phone, he heard more banging and wondered if the storm was coming back. It was his neighbor kicking in what was left of his door, to ensure that the Wilkinson family was safe. “He said ‘the whole neighborhoods gone.’ At that point, we gathered the kids and tried to find some mis-matched shoes laying all around for them to wear.” Then, Wilkinson called his brother for help. Assuming that the entire town had been wiped out, upon calling his brother he realized that it had only been his neighborhood that had been hit by the tornado. Wilkinson said that in retrospect, he feels very lucky and blessed to have gotten out of such a bad situation unharmed.
“I remember people coming out of the woodwork to help. I remember people driving around in food trucks and cooking hamburgers and food for volunteers. I remember volunteers everywhere. It was really humbling to receive that outpouring of support.”
One of those volunteer groups was made up of Dakota Community Bank & Trust (DCB&T) employees. “We provided a bank wide effort to get involved by helping with cleanup efforts and grilling for all of the other volunteers and families that were affected because it was the right thing to do in our community’s time of greatest need – it’s the least we could do to help alleviate some stress off those who were affected,” says Dickinson Branch President Jason Hopfauf. DCB&T provided the majority of their staff to assist with the actual cleanup of debris along with providing warm meals for displaced families and those volunteers who were there to help pick up the pieces.
“I know Dakota Community Bank & Trust did a lot. They did a lot of grilling and volunteering. It was just awesome. I just couldn’t believe it,” Wilkinson reminiscences. “It didn’t matter whether these people who were affected banked there or not. It didn’t matter. The bank did what they thought needed to be done to help. They dropped what they had going on to help. When stuff like that happens, the business side goes out the window and all of that stuff doesn’t matter. They just wanted to help people. That’s a testament to who they are.”
He feels that his eye-witness account of the tornado maybe only lasted two minutes in duration, but he said it felt much longer while it was happening. Though his home was a total loss, Wilkinson said he and his family are very fortunate and he learned a lot of lessons to use in the future if there were ever another weather emergency. “If something happens moving forward, I sure would want to be at the forefront of trying to help other people, because they sure helped us,” he closes.
According to tornadotalk.com, over 450 structures were damaged, of which nearly 100 were declared completely destroyed or beyond repair between the Heart River, 8th Street Southwest and 8th Street Southeast. Numerous vehicles were damaged or destroyed, some were on their roofs. Power lines were snapped, knocking out power to most of Dickinson, and tree damage was extensive. Two minor injuries were reported, with no deaths.
Written by Lindsey Hefta, Marketing Director