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No time to take shelter as tornado hits North Dakota man camp

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Residents of a North Dakota man camp have been allowed to return to the area where a tornado struck on Monday night to retrieve their belongings from the debris.

At least nine people were injured when a tornado touched down near Watford City, in the heart of the state's booming oil field business. An updated report from Forum Communications quotes Sheriff John Fulwider, who said the tornado destroyed 12 to 15 RVs or trailers.

“We are very fortunate that we didn’t have any fatalities last night,” Fulwider said. “It’s a really isolated spot that the tornado did touch down. We were very lucky.”

On Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported that McKenzie County Emergency Management Director Jerry Samuelson said that he was confident no one was missing. Eight of the injured were treated and released, according to Jerry Samuelson, Emergency Management Director of McKenzie County. Valley News Live reported that one person was airlifted to a Minot hospital with critical injuries.

Several cars were smashed or overturned and debris and downed power lines littered the nearby ditches.

Forum Communications quotes the National Weather Service in Bismarck, which said a tornado warning was issued for the areas at 7:46 p.m. Monday and shortly thereafter, a tornado had touched down. Weather service meteorologist Todd Hamilton said two meteorologists and an emergency response specialist are on the ground to survey the damage. The weather service rated the tornado an EF2, according to KSTP.

The American Red Cross has set up a shelter at the Watford City civic center; it will have 40 beds. Karen Holte, a Red Cross volunteer, said the tornado descended so quickly that no one had time to take shelter. As of midnight, four displaced families were in the shelter.

William Bunkel, 38, who photographed the damage, told the Associated Press Monday night that he was with co-workers when the tornado warning sounded. Bunkel, who works for a trucking company, said the twister remained on the ground for more than a minute.

"We saw it form, come out of the sky, hit the ground and go back up into the clouds," he said.

The Fargo Forum reports that one mile south of Watford City, Reino Rousu was hunkered down in his shop during the storm with his four children as hail larger than golf balls pelted the steel roof. He thinks three tornadoes touched down south of his home.

“It sounded like you were sitting in a firing range,” Rousu said. “You could see debris flying around it. It was on the ground for a long time.”

Windshields of about 15 residents were smashed and the windows to an extended stay housing lodge were destroyed, but no injuries were reported, he said.

Watford City is in the western part of the state, about 30 miles southeast of the oil boom hub city of Williston. The oil boom has led to a population explosion in western North Dakota, bringing in thousands of people seeking work. Many reside in hastily-assembled trailer parks or man camps made up of pre-fabricated structures that can resemble a military barracks.

Oil money has pushed rents to among the highest in the nation: a simple one bedroom apartment in Williston can rent for $2,000 a month.
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