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Nebraska town braces for massive tornado cleanup

By Josh Funk

PILGER, Neb. (AP) -- Residents of Pilger braced for a massive cleanup after a storm with dual tornadoes tore through their tiny northeast Nebraska town, killing a 5-year-old and damaging more than half of the community's structures.

Authorities evacuated Pilger overnight but were expected to let residents return Tuesday morning to survey the damage and gather any immediate valuables. The Stanton County Sheriff's Office said residents would gather at a staging area around 7:15 a.m., where law enforcement would then escort them into town.

The National Weather Service said the two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other. Emergency crews and residents spent the evening sifting through demolished homes and businesses in the community of about 350, roughly 100 miles northwest of Omaha. At least 19 people were injured.

"More than half of the town is gone - absolutely gone," Stanton County Commissioner Jerry Weatherholt said. "The co-op is gone, the grain bins are gone, and it looks like almost every house in town has some damage. It's a complete mess."

Victims were taken to three regional hospitals, and at least one had died from unspecified injuries, hospital officials said. The Stanton County Sheriff's Office confirmed late Monday that the person killed was a 5-year-old child. It didn't specify the child's gender.

Officials won't know the intensity of the storms until late Tuesday at the earliest, after crews have examined the area, said Barbara Mayes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Valley.

Mayes said the dual tornadoes were unusual because both appeared to have roughly the same strength. In most cases, she said, one tornado tends to be larger and more powerful than the other, and the bigger cyclone grows stronger as the smaller one weakens.

"It's less common for two tornadoes to track together for so long, especially with that same intensity," she said. "By no means is it unprecedented. But we don't see it often."

Jodi Richey, a spokeswoman for Faith Regional Health Services in nearby Norfolk, said one person died and 16 others were being treated at the hospital. Hospital officials initially described those patients as being in critical condition but said later that some had been released after treatment.

Providence Medical Center in nearby Wayne treated three tornado patients, including two who had lacerations, said hospital spokeswoman Sandy Bartling. Two were released Monday evening, and the third patient was in stable condition, she said.

Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger estimated that 50 to 75 percent of Pilger was heavily damaged or destroyed in the storm. The local school is likely beyond repair, he said.

"It's total devastation," Unger said.

Authorities said the first tornado touched down around 3:45 p.m. and downed several power lines before it leveled a farmhouse.

Then a second tornado was spotted southwest of Pilger, according to the Stanton County Sheriff's Office. Shortly afterward, the town suffered a "direct hit" that leveled several buildings, including the Fire Department building.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard was preparing to assist local emergency responders and help with the cleanup. Heineman and officials with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency were expected to arrive Tuesday morning.

Pilger was evacuated for the night, and the Nebraska State Patrol closed all roads into town. Most residents made their own arrangements, but some were taken to a shelter at Wisner-Pilger Jr.-Sr. High School in nearby Wisner.

About a dozen residents had arrived at the makeshift shelter by 9:30 p.m., and school officials were expecting more to come later, said Wisner-Pilger Schools Superintendent Chad Boyer. The shelter will remain open to residents for as long as needed to offer food, water, showers and cots, he said.

"I just have to use one word - devastation," Boyer said by phone from inside the school. "It's a tremendous loss all around the town."

Tornadoes also caused damage in Cuming and Wayne counties, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said in a news release. And meteorologists with the National Weather Service also tracked a reported tornado near the town of Burwell, in central Nebraska. Mayes said they had not received reports of damage.

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
raptureus210 June 17 2014 at 7:33 AM

If this nation continues to throw God (Jesus) underneath the bus, we will continue to see earthquakes, twin twisters, flows, droughts, food shortages, wars, greeds, school killings, and all the rest. Folks, God is lifting His Holy, Protected Hands from this nation because of our sins. I believe the main reason we are still experiencing a few blessings and that we are not totally been destroyed is because His people are still here. After the Rapture and His people have been taken away, you will see pure hell on earth. Please except Jesus The Christ as Lord and Savior today while you still can!

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8 replies
Loan Family June 17 2014 at 7:49 AM

Obama should put the troops here to help build Nebraska instead of Iraq

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2 replies
tnana23boys Loan Family June 17 2014 at 9:57 AM

Wow didn't take long for someone to blame this natural disaster on Obama, get a grip.

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1 reply
petestrainmail tnana23boys June 17 2014 at 10:45 AM

It doesn't sound like a blame, but a constructive idea

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rmnlt Loan Family June 17 2014 at 11:02 PM

The Governor has the ability to call forth the National Guard and probably will. President Obama will offer any assistance that is needed as he has done after all natural disasters since he has been in office. The manmade disaster of Irag is our responsibility since George Bush caused it.

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Alexis Elizabeth June 17 2014 at 7:08 AM

Deniers can't deny this. This is definately not normal!!

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2 replies
posstum123 Alexis Elizabeth June 17 2014 at 7:23 AM

you mean the area isn't known as tornado alley and hasn't been called that for decades?
sorry chicken little, but it is normal for the area!

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1 reply
bentbouy1 posstum123 June 17 2014 at 7:49 AM

how many double tornados have there been

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jimlabrue Alexis Elizabeth June 17 2014 at 9:16 AM

Alexis Elizabeth......... Go back and read the article more closely. You will discover that double tornadoes is not as uncommon as you think. The fact that these two were of relative size and strength was rare.....but not unheard of. Read the statement by meteorologist Barbra Mayes.

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LewTag June 17 2014 at 8:59 AM

Wow....there must be a lot of sinners out there....only partly kidding....condolences for all the losses....still, I don't think there are any accidents....tornadoes have been known all over the plains states but I wonder if the Indians would recall them being this bad in their day....insurance companies call them acts of God and well said...not the manmade god in holy books but the prime mover in the universe...generator, operator, destroyer...GOD...it does whatever it wants with whomever it wants and sheeple all must take what it gives and give what it takes...ergo theofatalism...look it up...www.theofatalism.org it won't be there much longer...

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4 replies
kimcrdr June 17 2014 at 11:10 AM

so much destruction and devastation, and loss of life, very sad, my heart goes out to all the people who were affected by these tornados!!

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jcroofingsales June 17 2014 at 11:42 AM

Is that the picture of the child that died....my heart breaks for this family. I am a short 11 miles from where this happened...and it was VERY scary. The two fatalities...the first was a child running around outside and the 2nd was someone out driving in their car. Having lived a lot of my youth in a small town...children running around on their own is common and VERY normal. However, why WHY do people insist on being in their cars looking at these storms. Just dumbfounds and scares me for them.

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botcheditagain000 June 17 2014 at 11:45 AM

Dang, those people need to go on a diet.

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kolachekid June 17 2014 at 10:55 AM

Natural disasters are periodic reminders of man's insignificance and our misplaced desire to control the environment, Unfortunately, as the circle widens from the point of impact, we miss the message, momentarily empathize with the victims, and then move on. No one's being punished or targeted. It is not the hand of god and not biblical . It is simply a natural reminder that worldwide we might live more peacefully together in a world that is not really ours to control. We are given temporary stewardship. Nothing more. That a small Nebraska town and its residents were victims of a natural disaster is regrettable and sad but that we never heed nature's message to us is even sadder.

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jimenezjessica7 June 17 2014 at 10:10 AM

YOU PEOPLE ARE ALL DUMB *****, THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE LORD"GOD" "JESUS" THIS IS NORMAL, THIS IS LIFE AND ******* MOTHER NATURE. PRAY AS MUCH AS YOU WANT, IT WONT DO ****. MY HEART GOES OUT TO THE FAMILIES THAT ARE YOU GOING THROUGH THIS ROUGH TIME

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Hello, Jeffrey June 17 2014 at 10:09 AM

I know these things are deadly but you do look upon them with awe, and it makes you understand how insignificant humans are in the grand picture. My prayers to the family of the 5 yr old, and all residents of this small community.

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