NYC woman ‘may lose her arm’ after explosion at Dakota Access Pipeline site

BISMARCK, N.D. — A New York woman was seriously injured during an explosion while she was protesting the Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota over the weekend.

Wayne Wilansky says his daughter, 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky, is having a second surgery on her damaged arm at a Minneapolis hospital and might lose the arm.

Wilansky was injured during a clash late Sunday near the camp along the pipeline route in southern North Dakota where protesters have gathered for months.

He says his daughter told him she saw a law enforcement officer throw an object at her that exploded.

Fellow activists say Wilansky was heading to bring water to the unarmed people who were protesting on the front lines when according to a press release by Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council, a concussion grenade thrown by police hit her left arm and exploded.

However, the Morton County Sheriff's Office stated authorities didn't use any concussion grenades and suggested an explosion heard during the skirmish might have been caused by small propane tanks that authorities said protesters had rigged to explode.

During the clash, officers using tear gas, rubber bullets and water sprays against protesters who they say assaulted officers with rocks, asphalt, water bottles and burning logs. One officer was injured when struck in the head with a rock. At least 17 protesters were injured severely enough to be taken to hospitals, according to the Associated Press.

Gruesome photos of Wilansky’s injuries have circulated on social media. She is seen sitting in a vehicle with a gaping wound revealing blood, tendons and what appears to be a broken bone.

Warning: Photos are extremely graphic and considered disturbing to some.

Wilansky was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis where she is undergoing multiple surgeries, according to a GoFundMe set up by friends: https://www.gofundme.com/30aezxs. It has raised more than $200K as of Tuesday evening.

Below is a statement released by her father, Wayne Wilansky:

“At around 4:30am a grenade exploded right as it hit Sophia in the left forearm taking most of the undersurface of her left arm with it. Both her radial and ulnar artery were completely destroyed. Her radius was shattered and a large piece of it is missing. Her medial nerve is missing a large section as well. All of the muscle and soft tissue between her elbow and wrist were blown away. Sophia will have surgery again tomorrow as bit by bit they try to rebuild a somewhat functioning arm and hand. The first surgery took a vein from her leg which they have implanted in her arm to take the place of the missing arteries. She will need multiple surgeries to try to gain some functional use of the arm and hand. She will be, every day for the foreseeable future, fearful of losing her arm and hand. There are no words to describe the pain of watching my daughter cry and say she was sorry for the pain she caused me and my wife. I died a thousand deaths today and will continue to do so for quite some time. I am left without the right words to describe the anguish of watching her look at her now alien arm and hand.”

Sophia Wilansky, of NYC, was severely injured when a concussion grenade thrown by police hit her left arm and exploded. (GoFundMe page)

Sophia Wilansky, of NYC, was severely injured when a concussion grenade thrown by police hit her left arm and exploded. (GoFundMe page)

Why protests are happening

Protesters say the Dakota Access Pipeline will threaten the environment and destroy Native American burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says construction of the pipeline -- which is currently slated to run under the Missouri River -- could affect its drinking water supply and put communities living downstream "at risk for contamination by crude oil leaks and spills."

Multiple groups have joined the protests over the months. Activists have destroyed construction equipment as part of their protests.

Protesters appear to be digging in their heels for the winter by building structures in a protest camp without permits, the Morton County Sheriff's Department said.

"Their actions are both illegal and likely insufficient to protect them from the elements," Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said. "We've seen that many of these protesters are not from North Dakota and may not be familiar with the harshness of our winters, and we urge them to leave the camps and seek appropriate shelter for their own health and safety."

Bernie Sanders tweeted that the president "must protect the safety of Native Americans and their supporters who have gathered peacefully to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline."

More than 525 people have been arrested in connection with the protests since they began months ago, the Morton County Sheriff's Department said Monday.

The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report. 

Police and about 400 people who were protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline clashed Sunday November 20, 2016 evening as demonstrators lit cars on fire and police launched tear gas and water at the crowds.

Police and about 400 people who were protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline clashed Sunday November 20, 2016 evening as demonstrators lit cars on fire and police launched tear gas and water at the crowds.