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Blizzard in South Dakota

Floor Speech

Date: Oct. 8, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Mrs. NOEM. Mr. Speaker, last weekend, a record blizzard hit my State of South Dakota. Some places in the Black Hills saw almost 4 feet of snow in just 2 days. Thousands were without power. Thousands are still without power. Emergency vehicles were stranded along with the people that they were trying to rescue.

The damage from the downed trees, the downed power lines covered with heavy, wet snow is monumental. On top of that, with warm weather expected this week, we expect to see massive flooding that could bring even more damage.

On the plains in western South Dakota, ranchers are still trying to recover from losing cattle in the drought last summer, which was the worst drought that we had seen since the Great Depression.

We've heard now that they've lost tens of thousands of cattle in this fall blizzard. We've heard that tens of thousands of cattle have been lost in the snow. They're being found frozen, smothered by the high drifts and injured from wandering in zero visibility in 70-mile-per-hour winds.

We talked with one rancher near White River, South Dakota, who found over 50 cattle who had died in one spot near a dam.

Another rancher north of New Underwood was finally able to locate his entire herd of 63 cows who'd taken refuge in a shed for protection, but none of them survived.

Another story is from a rancher near Union Center who said, ``It's bad. It's really bad. I'm the eternal optimist, but this is really bad. The livestock loss is catastrophic. It's pretty unbelievable.''

He said cattle were soaked by 12 hours of rain early in the storm, so many were unable to survive an additional 48 hours of snow and winds up to 60 miles per hour.

See, this blizzard came so early, cattle hadn't even had time to grow their winter coats. ``It's the worst early season snowstorm I've seen in my lifetime,'' he said, and he's 60 years old.

Another rancher said, ``This is absolutely, totally devastating.'' He's 52 years old. He's from Caputa, South Dakota. ``This is horrendous. I mean the death loss of these cows in this country is unbelievable.''

This man said he estimated he had lost half of his herd, but it could be far more. He was still struggling to find snow-buried cattle and those that had been pushed miles by winds that gusted over 70 miles per hour on Friday night.

An emergency management director in Butte County said that the trail of carcasses is a gruesome sight across the region. They're in the fence line. They're laying along the roads. It's really sickening.

And none of the ranchers that I have talked to can remember anything like it. Not only will this be devastating for this year's business, but also it will take years to rebuild what has been lost.

Yet another rancher, near Scenic, couldn't find his cattle over the weekend, and said he nearly killed a horse trying to get through the snow while searching for his cattle. He turned back, and yesterday, with the help of a pilot friend, flew over land south of the Badlands.

He found what he called the ``trail of death.'' About 200 of his 600 cows were dead, leading up to and throughout a draw. The calves that were still alive were standing by their mothers. The rest of his cows and calves are alive, but he can't get to them.

Those are just many of the tragic stories that we've heard. Our lack of a comprehensive farm bill leaves these ranchers without the protection of a livestock disaster program that would come in in these situations and blunt just a small portion of the loss.

I fought hard to include livestock disaster programs in the farm bill, which would cover these producers retroactively.

It's time we finish our work on the farm bill. It's time we go to conference, have a negotiation on the most reform-minded farm bill that has been put together for decades. Getting the farm bill done could give those in western South Dakota more certainty during this very, very difficult time.