An apartment complex on the Rosebud Reservation has drifts of snow blocking the doors and windows on Dec. 27, 2022. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)
President Joe Biden declared major disasters for two tribal communities in South Dakota on Tuesday for a pair of deadly December storms.
News of the declarations for the Rosebud and Oglala Sioux tribes arrived as snowflakes began to fall in the first of two more winter storms expected to blanket the state. This week’s storms are expected to bring nearly as much snow as the storms that pummeled the Midwest before Christmas.
Each presidential declaration is a pathway to reimbursement for 48 hours’ worth of snow removal costs “during or immediate to the incident period.” The time period for potential reimbursement is Dec. 12-25, 2022.
Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Scott Herman said tribal officials are set to meet with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this week to run through their costs during the Dec. 12-16 storm events and decide which 48 hours to claim.
“Hopefully we’ll get reimbursed for a lot of those expenses that we used during that 48 hours,” Herman said.
The tribe cleared 65% of the roadways after the first round of that event, Herman said, but continued to move snow for weeks after the second round.
On the Rosebud reservation, at least six people perished after the one-two punch of heavy snow in mid-December. Some tribal leaders said the response from the state was slow; state officials said emergency managers had collaborated and offered aid throughout the events and released a timeline of their actions in response.
In December, Herman expressed frustration with the situation, but also gratitude for state assistance. Since then, he said, Rosebud has worked to bolster its snow removal capacity, leasing two loaders and shuffling funds to purchase three more. The tribe also has additional snowblowers, snowmobiles and a “snow tracker” with treads for use in rescue operations in unplowed areas.
“We’ve got a lot more equipment than we had for the last storm. I think we’re prepared well enough this time to get through this storm,” Herman said.
The tribe has also hired an emergency management director to supplement the work of its emergency preparedness program, which covers a wide range of issues on the reservation. The idea is to put additional emphasis on natural disasters through the new position, Herman said.
The newest storm projections have put emergency managers across the state to work. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been in touch with tribal leaders and other stakeholders, according to spokesman Tony Mangan.
The department began sharing safety messages and emergency preparedness tips on social media on Feb. 17, four days before the first part of the storm was set to begin, and has offered multiple updates each day since. On Tuesday morning, Randy Hartman with the Office of Emergency Management outlined the must-haves for a vehicle emergency kit.
Other messages encouraged citizens to watch for road closures, and to take them seriously when they happen.
The state issued 147 tickets to people who flouted closures during the last storm event, Secretary Craig Price told lawmakers last month. State troopers and others with the DPS also conducted dozens of rescue operations.
The latest estimates from the National Weather Service suggest that this week’s storm will drop 8-12 inches of snow on most areas of the state between two weather systems Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday evening into Thursday morning, with parts of central and northeastern South Dakota receiving 12-18 inches. Some areas of the state saw nearly twice as much during the December storms.
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