With a pinch of cold in the toes and a tone of concern tinged with exhaustion, Anna Halverson relayed the message: “We are in a really extreme emergency here.
Winter storm Diaz blanketed the Pine Ridge Preserve in more than 30 inches of snow — unbelievable enough on its own — but it was amplified by intense winds that pinned the area under foot-high snowdrifts.
Halverson, who represents the Pass Creek District on the Pine Ridge Reservation, described their heartbreaking situation to the Journal on Thursday.
“It’s been really difficult,” she said. “We don’t have the proper equipment here to deal with what’s going on. We have galleries as high as some houses that stretch 60, 70 meters at a time.
More than 10 days into the storm, Diaz has moved on and the skies have started to clear, but the recovery process has only just begun. Halverson was not evicted from her home until eight days after the storm. Others are still trapped, accessible only by snowmobile.
It seems every time we open the road the snow just brings it back,” she said.
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It’s an incredibly scary situation, she explained, because many of those under the snow are missing dialysis treatments or dealing with other medical emergencies. A family ran out of infant formula and spent four days drifting before attempting to leave, Halverson said.
“We even talked about using drones to bring Enfamil to the baby because the baby was starving,” she said.
But Mother Nature wasn’t done yet.
If being trapped by formidable walls of ice and snow wasn’t enough, sub-zero temperatures brought down by an arctic front gripped an already struggling region by the neck. Temperatures dropped into the teens and negative 20s this week, and the wicked wind from the Midwest shredded those numbers with wind chills in the negative 40s and negative 50s.
Cold like this is deadly, just another blow to a reserve already crippled by the conditions, Halverson said.
“Most of our members use wood stoves,” she says. “We are not able to deliver them because of the roads. A lot of our members across the reserve don’t have propane, because the propane companies can’t reach their tanks to fill them. Even right now in my district, we haven’t had anyone able to deliver to those members who have been without propane since the storm began.
Oglala-based service organization Re-Member provides firewood to families from all corners of the reservation, but snowdrifts have made their stockpile of wood still inaccessible – and will be so in the future. predictable.
“Our pile of wood remains inaccessible,” reads a Facebook post on December 20. “Our skid steer loader and plow are out of service. Given the conditions, it would be nearly impossible to operate our equipment and dangerous for our staff to work in the conditions we face. We appreciate the efforts of many to keep the Oyate safe during these difficult times. »
Those who can try using electric heaters, which Halverson says don’t keep homes warm. Even his own furnace went out, blowing cold air into an already freezing atmosphere. She was able to go to her mother’s house to keep her family warm.
Power went out in some places, once for 18 hours, she said. People with cars tried to use them to keep warm.
The residents of the reserve resort to last-ditch efforts to ward off the unimaginable cold.
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“I’ve seen across the reservation that some members were burning clothes in their woodstove because they couldn’t access the wood,” Halverson said.
Conditions deteriorated so rapidly that Oglala Sioux Tribe President Frank Star Comes Out issued a proclamation declaring a state of emergency.
“These current blizzard conditions have caused the closure of all BIA and Tribal secondary roads on the reservation due to snowfall, high winds and snowdrifts,” Star Comes Out wrote. “Such blizzard conditions pose an imminent threat to tribal government operations, public safety and the health of tribal members who currently do not have access to medical care, such as dialysis, ambulance service for crisis intervention medical care such as heart attacks and childbirth, and private transportation to provide food and other necessities of life.
Halverson praised his efforts to try to get help for the residents of Pine Ridge. The exhaustion in his voice dissipated – for a brief second – calling his people “survivors”.
“We don’t live on our reservation,” she said. “We survive on our reserve. We seriously need help.
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Thousands Trapped on Pine Ridge Burn Clothes for Warmth After Storm