BAKER, Mont. — An unknown number of people were injured, at least two homes were destroyed and as many as a dozen others were damaged after a tornado struck the east side of Baker just before 7 p.m. Saturday.
Dean Butori, the Fallon County deputy director of emergency services, said it’s believed the tornado touched down inside the southeast Montana city of about 1,900 people. Baker is about 15 miles from the North Dakota border and 100 miles southwest of Dickinson.
The damage, while not widespread, was significant.
“I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s the worst destruction I’ve seen,” said Steve Baldwin, a Fallon County commissioner and Baker resident was is acting as the Department of Emergency Services spokesperson.
Baldwin said he didn’t know how many people were injured or hospitalized, but “everyone is accounted for.”
“We’re just getting ready to go in and do a second assessment here, just to double check everything,” he said shortly after 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
Baldwin said electricity is out on the east side of Baker and that landline telephones are down.
He said at least seven homes were confirmed to have sustained significant damage. Two were destroyed and roofs were pulled off of at least five, he said. He said it’s very likely that others are also damaged.
“I was just right at the center of it there — the part that got hit the worst,” he said.
Baldwin said everyone is thankful no one was killed in the tornado because of the amount of activities taking place. Not only was Little League baseball being played at the time, the Montana High School Rodeo Association State Finals were being held not far from where the tornado tore apart homes.
Lori Hall, an off-duty 911 dispatcher who lives on the east side of Baker, said she saw the tornado form outside of the front door of her home and then watched as it hit her neighbors houses.
“The whole house is gone,” Hall said of one home not far from her own. “The neighbors dug them out. They were the first ones to be rescued.”
Hall said she saw an RV camper be lifted off the ground and get sent airborne by the storm, and watched as a horse fought to run against the high winds. She added that she later saw the same horse safe with its handler.
Emergency responders from Bowman County, N.D., and other neighboring Montana counties were called in to assist their Fallon County and Baker counterparts, Baldwin said.
The first report of the tornado was at 7 p.m., according to Todd Chambers, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Billings, Mont.
Chalmers said the tornado was relayed to them by a storm spotter four miles to the east of Baker.
He said a more accurate time of impact may be around 6:55 p.m. Chalmers said he viewed video and photos of the tornado impacting the town.
More information about the strength and the path of the tornado will become clear Sunday, he said. The National Weather Service is sending a team to Baker to collect data.
Chalmers said the storm system moved northeast to the Montana-North Dakota line, but it is unknown if it caused any further damage.
Derek Smith, a storm chaser from Oklahoma, said he got to Baker after the tornado had gone through.
“It was very confined. It’s very sporadic. It’s freaky how they work,” said Smith, who works for Live Storms Media. “One home was destroyed (but) the outbuilding, a metal shed, was totally unharmed with a lawnmower in it.”
Baker resident Dean Wang, who was working at the rodeo, said it was evacuated as contestants and spectators were taken to a storm shelter underneath the grandstand.
Wang said he watched as the tornado “touched down over (Lake Baker) and damaged several homes on the east side of town.”
He said the second round of the rodeo finals were suspended for the evening and will resume at 7 a.m. Sunday, but only if there is an ambulance available to be on scene. If not, Wang said the rodeo may have to be delayed further.