Expecting the worst when they responded to a “direct hit” by a large tornado on the North Antelope Rochelle Mine in northeast Wyoming on Friday evening, emergency responders are breathing a sigh of relief that only six people were sent to hospitals and nobody died.
“Considering the circumstances, it’s a lot better than what it could’ve been from what we’re hearing from down there,” Campbell County Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds told Cowboy State Daily.
A small army of emergency responders from Campbell and Converse counties got the call at 6:07 p.m. and rushed to the mine, which straddles the county line about 60 miles south of Gillette, assuming a “mass casualty event until we know better,” said David King, emergency management coordinator for Campbell County.
The tornado reportedly scored a “direct hit” on the large open-pit coal mine, flipping vehicles and railcars, he said.
Talking to Cowboy State Daily while driving his mobile command unit to the mine, King said there was “one building that took a hit with people in it.”
About four hours into the response, those worst-case-scenario fears hadn’t materialized.
In a statement to Cowboy State Daily, Peabody Energy, which owns the mine, said operations at North Antelope Rochelle “have been suspended until we can fully assess facility damages and begin the process of restarting safe operations.”
Mary Compton, manager of Corporate Communications for the St. Louis, Missouri-based company, said all workers have been accounted for.
“We believe all employees are accounted for, and that six employees are at the hospital for treatment of non-life-threating injuries,” she said in the statement. “We continue to prioritize the safety of all our employees.”
She also said the company is “grateful for the first responders who helped our team at NARM tonight.”
Overall, seven people were confirmed to have been hurt by the tornado, Campbell County spokeswoman Leslie Perkins said in a press release. One person declined medical attention, five were transported to Campbell County Health and one to a hospital in Douglas.
She confirmed what Compton reported, that “those with injuries were not classified as immediately life-threatening.”
The response from Campbell County included 10 Campbell County Fire Department units, six sheriff’s deputies and three ambulances, in addition to the on-site emergency response employed by NARM. There was no report of the response from Converse County.
Along with locating and treating those who were hurt, other mine employees were transported to Gillette in school buses provided by the Campbell County School District, the press release says.
Brad Walton, a storm chaser, posted a video of the tornado on Twitter. It shows a huge storm cell that goes all the way to the ground beyond the horizon.
“We have what appears to be a massive tornado right here,” he says on the video. “Holy smokes.”
Talking to someone off-camera, Walton says he’s a storm chaser.
“Look at how fast that’s moving,” he says. “There’s no way that’s not a tornado.”
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said state agencies are assisting local emergency teams as needed and will provide assistance as requested.
"Our hearts go out to all those impacted by today's extreme weather events, which serve as a reminder for how serious extreme weather can be. I ask everyone to please pay attention to weather reports in their areas and be ready to take precautions," Gordon said.