September 21, 2014

Volunteers descend on Pilger to help in first step to recovery

Photo courtesy of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency

Photo courtesy of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency

Nearly two thousand volunteers have descended on Pilger to help with the clean up after an EF-4 tornado destroyed up to three-quarters of the small community in northeast Nebraska.

The devastation hit Erica Hanton of Omaha hard. She grew up in Pilger.

“I spent a lot of my childhood here in Pilger. Every day, in the summertime, I would play softball and swim at the swimming pool,” Hanton tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WJAG. “And, so a lot of my happy memories from childhood were spent here. And so, it just kind of tore my heart out when I saw this happening.”

Volunteers have been cleaning up tree limbs, bricks, and rubble left from what once were houses, businesses, and schools in Pilger. Twin tornadoes formed outside the town, with the larger of the two hitting Pilger directly.

Johnny Pochop came from a neighboring community to lend a hand.

“I’m from Battle Creek, so we’ve been through the floods over there. We’ve had the volunteers come into town and help us. This is the least we can do with the neighboring community like we’ve got,” Pochop says.

Pochop says the destruction in Pilger shocked him.

“Pictures don’t do it justice. To see the destruction and devastation that these people have right now, it’s just, it’s unbelievable.”

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross are coordinating the volunteer effort in Pilger.

It has attracted neighbors, such as Pochop, as well as Nebraskans from farther away. Americans from other states also have traveled to northeastern Nebraska to help.

Paul Hughes, WJAG, contributed to this article.