The light that shines from your local casino is usually synonymous with fun and games. On the night of May 12, 2022, in Flandreau, SD, it became a beacon of hope and safety for the community during a violent storm.
“I was just doing laundry,” said Travis Anderson, recalling what began as a casual night. Like flipping a switch, the storm swiftly rolled in with booming thunder, violent lightning and clouds that blackened the sky. “It was really dark out, so I gathered all my children, made sure they got to the basement, so they could be safe.” They quickly lost power to their home.
In that moment, covered in darkness, he found some old mattresses to shield from potential debris he worried might come through the ceiling. “I was just praying, I guess… that nothing happens to my kids.”
He kept his phone close to monitor the storm. Within a Facebook news feed as dreary as the weather, he saw a glimmer of light in the form of a post form his friend Ryan: Royal River Casino was offering rooms to those in need. “I just messaged Ryan and he said, ‘go check it out; go to the front desk. Tell them who you are, and they should give you a room.”
Only a block away, while the storm died down, he, his wife and their four children dashed to the casino.
“It was completely black; it was crazy.”
The tribal Chief of Police Brian Arnold wasn’t supposed to be on duty that night. “Within three to five minutes, it got dark,” he said, “wind blowing dirt and dust all around. I couldn’t hardly see across to my neighbor’s place. I had a couple roofers on my roof, and I told them, ‘You have about three minutes to get down.’”
The storm didn’t stop him from suiting up, getting in his squad car and driving around to assess damage. “Multiple evergreen trees,” he said, “Some of the larger elm and ash trees were down. Several power lines in the middle of the streets.” Two streets were completely blocked on tribal jurisdiction.
“My friend had a payloader. So, we used to clear trees off our jurisdiction,” he recalled, “So I just assisted with traffic control.”
While he was working on the streets, Anderson and his family reached the Casino. It was there they learned there were around 30 rooms being used to help people displaced by the storm – all paid for by the local Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.
“I was extremely grateful. I’m always grateful that the tribe helps out the people - especially this group of council members. They’re always looking out for everyone,” said Anderson.
After the storm subsided, Anderson, along with the rest of the community were able to assess the damage. “A bunch of trees uprooted,” he said, “A couple buildings were all ripped up - like the roofs all ripped up. Some window damage in a couple apartments.”
He says the Flandreau community hasn’t seen a storm this rough in about 10 years. “It took off my roof that time,” recalls Anderson. During that time, he lived in a different house and was an employee with the casino.
This is the first-time local citizens were able to use the casino for shelter. For Arnold, as an officer, he says it always feels good to have backup from the tribe. “They’re really stepping up and taking care of the community,” he said.
For Anderson and his loved ones, this community is more than just friends and neighbors. It’s a tribe. He said, “The tribe do all look out for one another. I do what I can around the community. The council, they do what they can to help people that are in need.”
Like providing a light in the darkest moments.