Pipeline opponents ride out storm in shelters, casino

By Blake Nicholson, Associated Press

Some protesters who have been fighting the Dakota Access pipeline retreated to a nearby casino and area shelters overnight as a blizzard blew through, but many remained at a camp in southern North Dakota, according to protest organizers who say they're committed to maintaining the camp through the winter.

A motorist checks the condition of an exit ramp before attempting to drive out of the Oceti Sakowin camp where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline in Cannon Ball, N.D., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. An overnight storm brought several inches of snow, winds gusting to 50 mph and temperatures that felt as cold as 10 degrees below zero. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) — Some protesters who have been fighting the Dakota Access pipeline retreated to a nearby casino and area shelters overnight as a blizzard blew through, but many remained at a camp in southern North Dakota, according to protest organizers who say they're committed to maintaining the camp through the winter.

The storm Monday and Tuesday brought more than half a foot of snow, wind gusts exceeding 50 mph and temperatures that felt as cold as 15 degrees below zero. For some not accustomed to often-harsh North Dakota winters, the weather was eye-opening.

"Scary," said Melissa Thorpe, 30, of St. Petersburg, Florida, who had been staying in a teepee with a dozen other people at the large encampment but headed to a shelter overnight.

Protesters are maintaining a presence even after scoring a victory when the Army on Sunday said it would not issue an easement for the $3.8 billion pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault reiterated his call Tuesday for protesters to leave, saying the Army's decision has delayed the pipeline for months and there's no reason for people to put their lives at risk.

Morton County set up emergency shelters at storm-closed school facilities in Mandan and Flasher after sheriff's deputies responded to numerous stranded vehicles in the protest camp area, according to spokeswoman Maxine Herr. Only one protester went to the Flasher school; about 30, including Thorpe, spent the night in a Mandan school gymnasium.

Thorpe and fellow pipeline opponents couldn't find a hotel room and "thought we were going to be sleeping in our car at Wal-Mart," she said. "We're so happy (the shelter) is here."

Many remained at the camp overnight, according to Jade Begay, of Tesuque, New Mexico, who said she stayed in a yurt heated by a wood stove and had to fix a roof panel that was blown off the tent-like structure.

"I was awake most of the night. It was pretty intense," Begay said.

Yet Begay and others said the weather wasn't putting a damper on pipeline opponents' enthusiasm.

"Of course it's difficult, but I think that this is the test that shows how strong we are and how determined we are to be here," said Michelle Cook, from Tucson, Arizona, who spent the night at the Standing Rock Sioux casino a few miles away.

The tribe and its supporters believe the pipeline threatens drinking water and cultural sites. Dallas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners has denied that and said the pipeline will be safe.

The camp is on federal land, and the Army Corps of Engineers had set a Monday deadline for people to leave, citing safety concerns. Officials didn't plan to forcibly remove anyone, but those who remain are considered to be trespassing.

Corps spokeswoman Moira Kelley said Tuesday that the agency had not issued any citations. She didn't respond to further questions.

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