Residents of Nebraska town return after deadly tornado

June 18, 2014 - 4:04:33 am

PILGER: Hundreds of residents driven from a Nebraska village levelled by a deadly tornado began returning to the community yesterday morning to salvage their belongings and assess the damage to battered homes, businesses, a church and school.

The town of Pilger, just several blocks wide and home to about 350 people, took a direct hit on Monday afternoon as tornadoes swept across a farming area in northeast Nebraska.

“Pilger is gone,” said Sanford Goshorn, director of emergency management for Stanton County. “The tornado cut right through the centre of town.”

At least one person in Pilger, a 5-year-old girl, was pronounced dead at an area hospital that received more than a dozen other injured, Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger said. A person also died in neighbouring Cuming County.

Brian Reeg, who lives in nearby Winside, stood bewildered looking at a pile of rubble that had been his church in Pilger. “I just came to see if I could help,” Reeg said. “This is where I was baptized, where I was married and went to church my whole life.”

Mark Aken, 58, who moved to Pilger three weeks ago, said Tuesday he did not have time even to unpack at the home he rented near the flattened St. John’s Lutheran Church. “There’s a tree right through my front door,” said Aken, who said he is staying with family in the area for now. “My van is upside down.”

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman planned to survey the damage in the Pilger area yesterday, the governor’s office said.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, reported at least one and possibly two cases in which a pair of twisters touched down simultaneously, a rare phenomenon according to meteorologists.

The tornadoes appeared to be class EF-2 or EF-3 twisters, meaning they packed cyclonic winds of up to 165 mph, said Rich Thompson, the lead forecaster for the center. Two weather service teams were surveying the damage yesterday.

Pilger, which is about 160km northwest of Omaha, was the hardest hit town in a three-county area where state emergency management reported injuries and damage.

Most of the homes and other buildings that once stood in an area about six blocks wide by six blocks long were wiped out, with debris strewn across roadways and into a field east of Pilger. Crushed vehicles littered the landscape. Reuters

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