Freak wind damages Flora’s roof, siding

By Ron Burtz and Charley Najacht
Wind gusts estimated as high as 70 to 75 mph Sunday afternoon took the roof off one of Custer’s oldest buildings, leading to the collapse of an awning on the west side of Flora’s Jewelry and Western Wear on Mt. Rushmore Road. Four vehicles parked along the 6th Street side of the building were also damaged when the awning fell on them. The damage reportedly occurred around 5 p.m. 
Building and store owner Ron Flora said when the high wind gusts came out of the east, it lifted that edge of the roof and blew the entire structure over the top of the building to the west. When that happened, the steel ­roof brought down the wooden siding covering the original brick building on the west side.
He pointed out that the wooden siding covering the west side of the building was well anchored and would not have come down if it hadn’t been for the roof pulling it down.
Flora said he requested his insurance company send an engineer to access any structural damage to the building. Some cracks could be seen in the brick wall on the west side of the building.
“I’m just glad nobody got hurt,” Flora said. His son, Jake, had moved out of the upstairs apartment two weeks ago. The store was closed at the time the damage occurred.
“The people with the cars under the siding were just around the corner at a birthday party,” he said.
Flora’s has been a mainstay and anchor in the downtown Custer business community for 50 years.
Ron’s mother and father, Helen and Norman Flora, started Flora’s Jewelry and Western Wear on the corner of Mt. Rushmore Road and 6th Street on Lot 1 Block 1 in 1969. Ron and his wife, Tonya, bought the business and building from Helen in 2008. Both Ron and Tonya are actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the business.
Ron said he is waiting to see what happens with his insurance company before he decides what his next step will be, but that the priority is to get a new roof over the building as soon as possible.
The Custer and Pringle fire departments responded to the incident, along with units from the Custer County Sheriff’s Office and Custer County Search and Rescue. A two-block section of Mt. Rushmore Road was shut down from 5th to 7th atreets for several hours as firefighters from Custer and Pringle worked into the night to clear away the rubble and secure the building. 
A front-end loader and a backhoe were brought in to move away the mangled lumber, bricks and canvas from the large mural that covered the side of the building. Once uncovered, the cars were pulled away across Mt. Rushmore Road. 
At around 8 p.m. a crew used a ladder truck to cut the sign off the southwest corner of the building, fearing that another wind gust might rip the siding from the front of the structure as well. 
Meteorologist Scott Rudge of the Rapid City office of the National Weather service reported that a 68-mph wind gust was recorded at the Custer Airport at about 6 p.m. Sunday. He also said a Custer resident who owns a private weather station reported clocking a wind gust at 83 mph Sunday afternoon. 
While Rudge said that may be a bit higher than the actual wind speed, he said the structural damage to Flora’s is consistent with a gust of at least 70-75 mph. 
Because of the high winds, snow totals in the Custer area were hard to gauge, but Rudge said there was a report of three inches having accumulated five miles northwest of Custer already at 1:30 p.m. Nine to 12 inches were reported in the Hill City area and up to two feet of snow fell in the Northern Hills. 
Rudge said the storm had been predicted by computer models several days ahead of time and he said forecasters did a “pretty good job” as far as predicting the track of the storm.  
“It just came up a little bit short as far as the intensity across the Black Hills,” Rudge said. “It really cranked up as it came across the area.”
In some places in the Black Hills, the wind-driven snow caused almost white-out conditions. Custer resident Sheila Green reported it took her nearly an hour to travel from Rapid City to Hill City on her way home Sunday afternoon. 
There were reports of downed trees and branches and other structural damage in the Custer area. 
On an optimistic note, Rudge reported the weather is expected to “warm up nicely Friday and Saturday before another cold front comes through the area Sunday. 

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