By Leo Juarez, NBC News Midwest Bureau
EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. -- Joe Brings Plenty is "amazed" that no one died.
Still, the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and his fellow members faced a dire situation after an ice storm struck their South Dakota reservation on Jan. 21, knocking down thousands of utility poles and cutting off power for several weeks.
With few shelters, most of the roughly 11,000 residents stayed in their homes as the wind chill reached 20 degrees below zero. Water was also cut off due to a malfunction at the local treatment facility. And an earlier Christmas blizzard had drained much of the tribe's emergency fund.
Shortly after the ice storm, a state emergency team and the National Guard arrived to help distribute relief supplies. But the crisis initially got little attention outside this rural state, and I could see why as I toured the snow-covered reservation last week. Tiny communities dot an area stretching across two of the poorest counties in the nation, with an unemployment rate hovering near 80 percent.
Tribal officials had sought financial assistance via a Web site and Facebook page. But their efforts got a real boost after being featured for several nights on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." To date, the tribe has raised about $400,000.
Now, the tribe is hoping to shift attention to a long-term goal: federal funding for an upgrade of what it calls an "outdated" and "maxed out" water system, one that contributed to the recent crisis. The price tag is a hefty one and the project currently lacks political support, but Joe Brings Plenty sees the overwhelming humanitarian response to the ice storm as a sign that his tribe has not been forgotten.
Click below to watch the Nightly News video:
|VIDEO: Tribal members describe the crisis after the ice storm|