RAPID CITY, S.D. -- One month before President Clinton visited Pine Ridge Reservation for his economic empowerment tour, tornadoes swept through the Lakota Sioux community, destroying or damaging more than 150 homes and leaving hundreds of people homeless. Although those affected by the early June storms are receiving emergency assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the state of South Dakota and various voluntary agencies, many still have unmet needs. In response to the disaster, the Oglala Sioux tribe has set up a donation fund to help their neighbors recover.
"What makes this disaster especially heart-breaking is that in many cases, one home houses four or five families," FEMA Regional Director Rick Weiland said. "The tornadoes devastated people already impacted by economic hardships."
Shannon County is one of the poorest counties in the country with an unemployment rate at 70 percent and an average annual family income of $3,800.
President Clinton witnessed the severity of the housing situation in Pine Ridge during his economic tour when he visited a Lakota woman who houses 28 family members.
The President declared the Pine Ridge Reservation and Shannon County a federal disaster June 9 which allows federal and state financial assistance, including temporary housing, for those affected by the tornadoes, severe storms and flooding.
Because of the housing shortage in Pine Ridge, FEMA has brought in travel trailers and manufactured homes for many of those displaced. "FEMA is doing everything within its power to provide long-term housing for each family who lost a home," Weiland said. "But we cannot take people back to what they had before the disaster."
"When someone loses everything they have accumulated during a lifetime, it is impossible for any one agency to try and replace it," said Harold Salway, chairman of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. "We have many families who have no financial resources to replace what they lost."
Many people across the country have asked how they can help residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation recover from the disaster. The Oglala Sioux Tribe wants people to know that cash donations are the best way to help people recover from this disaster.
Cash donations allow tribal leaders to respond directly to the most critical needs. They also are easy to manage and do not require warehouse space or logistical support. The following is a list of materials and services that can be provided with cash donations.
- Employ local contractors, builders, welders, and electricians from the Pine Ridge Reservation
- Build foundations to secure mobile homes and reinforce basements
- Contract the building of tornado safe rooms for individuals
- Help residents with unmet needs
- Purchase building supplies and materials from the local areas
- Help support local volunteers from the Oglala Lakota Nation
Financial donations can be mailed to the First National Bank in Gordon, NE, or they can be reached by phone by calling 308-282-0050. The mailing address is: Oglala Sioux Tribe Victims' Fund, First National Bank, Box 290, Gordon, NE 69343