LODGEPOLE, S.D. — Terry Henderson was nervously waiting for his hired man to return on the snowmobile Monday afternoon to learn how his cow-calf pairs fared in the weekend storm.
He figured there would be bad news and not-so bad news, but he didn't think his herd would come out unscathed.
Henderson, who ranches and farms a little north of Lodgepole, S.D., not far from Hettinger, said he didn't expect the foot or so of snow and wind would cause much problem, until he started hearing from neighbors up and down the line.
"Everybody's going to lose some, but so far it seems to be minimal," he said.
One neighbor had about 15 animals die from wandering into a water pond in the storm.
"That's the worst fear, that they'll pile up in a fence corner or get into a water hole," he said.
The Hendersons, like thousands of rural Grand Electric Cooperative members, were still running off a generator Monday.
Co-op manager Jerry Reisenauer said he still had 1,800 people without power on his system, which covers 9,000 square miles, one of the largest land mass co-ops in the country. It's headquartered in Bison, S.D.
Reisenauer said airplane pilots, flying the system looking for downed lines and poles, were reporting heavy cattle losses on the ground.
"They're saying the loss of cattle is incredible. The snow was hard and intense. Here we had between 15 inches and 2 feet of hard wet snow. Some cattle suffocated. The livestock loss will be extreme," he said.
Reisenauer said he hopes to have everyone back on line by the middle of the month and figures with extra crews coming on and several million dollars in repairs, the job of rebuilding downed poles will be done at the outside of two weeks, start to finish.
"By mid-October, I hope this is all a bad dream," he said.
In nearby Lemmon, S.D., Mayor Neal Pinnow said he went door-to-door during the height of the storm, checking on the elderly to make sure they were warm. The community was without power starting Friday until early Sunday morning.
Pinnow said he moved four seniors to the nursing home and to the police department overnight.
The town, like others in a wide swath from Carson, Elgin, New Leipzig, Mott, Hettinger and into South Dakota, was deep in snow, with yards and sidewalks still littered with downed trees everywhere.
"This is a disaster with the amount of snow. A lot of homes were hit by trees and we could have basement flooding, depending on how fast it melts," the mayor said.
He sent some of his workers and equipment over to the school across the street, where snow drifts nearly reached the school roof in the rear of the building. Kids were off on a storm day, he said.
In the countryside, fields of corn were waist-high in snow, hay bales were stranded in deep drifts and sunflowers were having a hard time holding their heads up in the storm's aftermath.
The crop damage could be substantial as well, Reisenauer said.
Folks living in low-lying areas will have to keep a watch for rising streams and rivers. Warm Indian summer weather through the week should melt snow rapidly, and perhaps dangerously.
In New Leipzig, Jack Hertz and Grant Daniels were hoping the ice cream in the town's grocery story would stay fresh and frozen on generator power.
It was the town's third day without power Monday. The community-owned grocery store was open for business, but still in the dark.
The two men were helping out at the store, making sure emergency items were available, "just to tide people over," Daniels said.
They figure the store will take some losses, as will everyone in town with food spoiling in warm refrigerators and freezers.
"This is a major catastrophe. We've had snow in October, but not like this," Daniels said.
The two men said they were looking forward to taking a hot shower and shaving several days' worth of stubble from their faces.
In Elgin, auditor Lynn Mutschelkmaus said the city crews were gradually getting a handle on the situation, opening streets and clearing downed trees off city streets.
"The trees — we can't even find them under the snow," she said.
At home over the dark weekend, she turned on the grill to cook and watched while their ranch cows walked home through downed fences along state Highway 21.
She knows some of their 350 sheep were trampled, but doesn't know the extent of the casualties.
"We did what North Dakotans do best — ride it out," she said.
Down the street, Arnold Friesz, of Elgin, was finishing a cigarette before going into the shed for his chain saw.
"There's not much left of the trees," he said.
Don Franklund, general manager of Slope Electric, headquartered in New England, and Mor-Gran-Sou Electric, headquartered in Flasher, said about 750 customers were still without power Monday in the south area from Mott to Carson down toward the state line. That's an improvement from the 3,000 without power at the peak of the outage.
"We're getting down to it. We should have everyone restored by the end of the week," Franklund said.
He said he expected the storm damage to cost the co-op north of $2 million.
Reisenauer, of Grand Electric, said a disaster declaration would help the co-ops with some of the repair costs.
Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.