Cheyenne River Inches Toward Blizzard Recovery
Dakota Digest - 02/03/2010
The Cheyenne River Reservation is still struggling to recover from the ice storm and blizzard that hit the state ten days ago. While utilities are being restored to some areas, many tribal residents remain with out heat or water.
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By Charles Michael Ray
On the Cheyenne River Reservation -a gas powered generator is about as good as it gets. For days small generators have been the only thing supplying electricity to parts of this isolated reservation. The ice storm struck here January 21st snapped off some 3-thousand power poles. The loss of electricity brought down the tribes antiquated water treatment plant. That left 14-thousand people without reliable water. Before repairs could be made, a blizzard hammered down white out conditions and wind chills of 45 below zero. For Tribal Chairman Joseph Brings Plenty it's a worse case scenario.
"Me looking at this from a leader's point of view, I didn't know exactly how we were going to make it through this," says Brings Plenty. Today I guess we can say that we're seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in grave need," he adds.
Government, Military, and non-profit aid organizations are attempting to meet that need. They've brought in drinking water, generators, snow removal equipment, and food. But resources are still thin. Bernard Long a commander with the United States Public Health Service is helping to head up the emergency operations center. Long commends the tribe for its efforts in dealing with this disaster despite the hardships.
"They've been completely overwhelmed like any other sovereign nation or sovereign state, like what's happening in Haiti right now. They've been devastated their communication, transportation, power, water they've all been shut down," says Long.
The tribe was hampered by not just this storm but also the Christmas Blizzard which cost tribal government 400-thousand dollars in snow removal funds alone. So by the time the ice storm hit there were few resources left. Utility crews are working overtime against the cold to help the tribe restore power to several areas. But outlying communities like the town of La Plant remain without water or electricity. The pipes inside the La Plants water tower have frozen, and burst and power poles that supply electricity to the town are snapped off like toothpicks. In town there is one emergency shelter. It's a trailer house with few well used porta-potties out front. For the last week and a half about 25 people have been crammed into this three bedroom home. One of them is Cody Hill, a mother of two. Hill is exhausted, and frustrated. She says it's hardest on the kids at night.
"It's hard to see them suffer because they have to lay anywhere and everywhere on the floor, not at their own home, where they should be where they would be safe," says Hill.
Safety is a concern for Hill. The Cheyenne River reservation is the size of Connecticut, there are only 11 tribal police officers for the entire area. Residents are doing their best to care for themselves. Two of them Daniel LeBeau and Ford Hill are riding their horses on the hard packed snow on the side of the road.
"This is the only way we can get around is by Horseback," says Daniel LeBeau.
Right now we're going down and checking on people on the highway," he says. "We're checking out elders on the road, says LeBeau. "Elders need the help first," Ford adds.
One of those who could use some help is Florence Shaving -- She's a frail elderly woman who has been without electricity or heat for 10 days. A coca-cola bottle sitting on her kitchen table is frozen solid. She's keeping her plumbing from freezing by running the propane burners on her kitchen cook stove, it's a move that could bring on carbon monoxide poisoning, but Shaving has no other heat.
"What I'd like to have is a heater, but there is no place to get it," Shaving says. "We have to keep our sweaters on our jackets on - but I hope the lights come on," she adds.
The lights are due to come on soon. Repair crews are slowly mending the lines that will bring electricity to this town. Other more rural homes could be without power for weeks. The need for the basics, food, water and shelter will continue here. Tribal officials say they are hoping for a presidential disaster declaration to deal with the lack of resources and high costs of this storm. But the real concern for tribal officials is the coming months. Winter is not over and the biggest storms of the year traditionally don't hit until March or April.
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