North Dakota Tornado Tears Through Oil Patch, Injures 9, Destroys Trailers

By Josh Wood | May 28, 2014

Investigators headed to western North Dakota on May 27 to assess the strength of a tornado that injured nine people, including a 15-year-old girl who suffered critical injuries, and damaged or destroyed 15 trailers at a workers’ camp in the heart of the northern state’s booming oil patch.

The twister touched down about 7:50 p.m. on May 26 at a camp just south of Watford City.

The girl was flown to a hospital, but McKenzie County Emergency Manager Jerry Samuelson said early he didn’t know the nature of her injuries. Samuelson said he did not know why the girl, whom he didn’t name, was at the worker camp but that “families do live out there.”

Eight other people were treated for lesser injuries. The American Red Cross said eight residents spent the night at a shelter at a civic center and that several families were among those displaced.

Plywood and other debris was scattered across several hundred square feet at the site on Tuesday morning. Four trailers and a couple of other prefabricated buildings were still standing.

It was cool and rainy at the site and there was very little activity. A heavily damaged truck was flipped over on the highway and several other abandoned vehicles were nearby. Road signs were flattened and tumbleweeds pushed up against some electrical wires.

Weather service meteorologist Todd Hamilton said two meteorologists and an emergency response specialist left the state capital of Bismarck at daybreak Tuesday to survey the damage at the camp. He said the agency should be able to rate the tornado on the enhanced Fujita scale later in the day.

It is likely that only one tornado touched down Monday night, although there were reports of several funnel clouds alongside baseball-sized hail, Hamilton said.

The oil boom has brought tens of thousands of people into the area looking for work. Many live in hastily assembled trailer parks, known as man camps, housing pre-fabricated structures that resemble military barracks. Some companies rent blocks of hotel rooms for employees, and some workers sleep in their cars or tents.

Housing developments are constantly popping up but they are not keeping pace with demand, and oil money has pushed rents to among the highest in the nation: A simple one bedroom apartment in nearby Williston can easily cost $2,000 per month in rent. Even a spot to park a trailer can cost over $800 per month.

Associated Press writers Blake Nicholson in Bismarck and Carson Walker in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.

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