Nebraska town braces for massive tornado cleanup

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Nebraska town braces for massive tornado cleanup
Mary Donner pauses from salvaging her belongings to eat a quick lunch on the front porch of her home in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm that spawned at least four tornadoes, killing two people in the Pilger area, according to the Norfolk Daily News. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
A worker pauses for a break from cleaning up debris in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Workers clean up debris from a property in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Workers clean up debris in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Workers and a security officer talk with a field of debris behind them in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Clayton Petersen, left), Harry Petersen, center, and Jeffery Petersen take a break to eat while helping with the cleanup effort in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Mangled vehicles sit on co-op property in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Workers clean up debris from a property in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Debra Nelson, a middle school teacher with the Omaha public schools, stands on mangled playground equipment to take a photo of the middle school in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
A worker walks past the co-op in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Workers pause while working on a damaged house in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Jonathan Vesely, left, Eric Wolverton, right, and Brad Wolverton, center, search through debris that Wolverton said belonged to his aunt and uncle in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Jeanette Marx talks on her phone while helping to salvage items from a house in Pilger, Neb., Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Wednesday was the first day volunteers were allowed into town to help with cleanup following Monday's storm, according to the Norfolk Daily News. The storm spawned at least four tornadoes, and killed two people in the Pilger area. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly, Pool)
Rescue personnel tend to 5-year-old Calista Dixon in Pilger, Neb., after two giant tornados bore down on the small town on Monday, June 16, 2014. The girl later died, as did a motorist, David A. Herout, 74, of Clarkson, Neb. At least 19 people were taken to hospitals and most of the buildings in Pilger were heavily damaged or destroyed. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)
A woman walks down Black Hills Trail road in Pilger, Neb., Monday, June 16, 2014. At least one person is dead and at least 16 more are in critical condition after two massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)
This Tuesday, June 17, 2014, aerial photo, shows the devastated town of Pilger, Neb. On Monday, a storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska, killing a 5-year-old girl, leaving grain bins crumpled like discarded soda cans and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Dakota Aerials, Dave Tunge)
The remains of the Midwest Bank stand next to rubble Tuesday, June 17, 2014, after a tornado ripped through town on Monday evening. Up to 75 percent of the buildings in Pilger were heavily damaged or destroyed. That included the grain co-op, bank, library, middle school, city offices and fire department. (AP Photo/Norfolk Daily News, Jake Wragge)
Jaime, right, and Jeff Hoadley, of Madison, Neb., look over the property next to her parents' home and St. John's Lutheran Church, where Jaime's father is pastor, in Pilger, Neb., after tornadoes moved through the area Monday, June 16, 2014. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska, killing a 5-year-old girl, leaving grain bins crumpled like discarded soda cans and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly)
This photo taken on June 16, 2014 from atop the Wisner, Neb., grain elevator and made available on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, shows a tornado approaching Pilger, Neb. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through northeast Nebraska, crumpling grain bins and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Mitch Schweers)
Clothes still hang on hangers in a closet of a home destroyed by a tornado in Pilger, Neb. on Monday, June 16, 2014. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska, killing a 5-year-old girl, leaving grain bins crumpled like discarded soda cans and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly)
Structures in Pilger, Neb. are heavily damaged after tornadoes moved through the area on Monday, June 16, 2014. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through a tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska, killing a 5-year-old girl, leaving grain bins crumpled like discarded soda cans and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly)
Ruth Labenz is assisted to safety by a Stanton County Sherriff's officer after her home was destroyed in the town of Pilger, Neb. Monday, June 16, 2014. At least one person is dead and at least 16 more are in critical condition after two massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)
A woman walks down Black Hills Trail road in Pilger, Neb., Monday, June 16, 2014. At least one person is dead and at least 16 more are in critical condition after two massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)
Rescue personnel tend to a young tornado victim in Pilger, Neb., Monday, June 16, 2014. A hospital spokeswoman says at least one person is dead and at least 16 more are in critical condition after two massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)
Two tornados approach Pilger, Neb., Monday June 16, 2014. The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other Monday in northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/Eric Anderson)
A tornado forms over a house near Pilger, Neb., Monday, June 16, 2014. At least one person is dead and at least 16 more are in critical condition after two massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)
This framgrab taken from video provided by StormChasingVideo.com shows two tornados approaching Pilger, Neb., Monday June 16, 2014. The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other Monday in northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/StormChasingVideo.com)
Map locates Pilger, Nebraska; 1c x 2 inches; 46.5 mm x 50 mm;
A man holds a girl after she was pulled from the basement of her destroyed home in Pilger, Neb., Monday, June 16, 2014. A hospital spokeswoman says at least one person is dead and at least 16 more are in critical condition after two massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)
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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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