August 23, 2014

Concert is tonight in Omaha to benefit tornado-tossed Pilger

Several musicians with ties to the northeast Nebraska town of Pilger have organized a benefit show tonight to raise money for the community that was struck by two tornadoes last month.

Clint Meyer, a singer-songwriter, grew up in Pilger. He saw the pictures and videos of the damage done on June 16 and went back to his hometown a couple days later to volunteer with cleanup efforts.

“To be there and notice the scale and the depth of it all, it wasn’t just the row of houses you see in the picture, but the row behind it and the row behind that, several blocks completely destroyed,” Meyer said. “There was no way to get a sense of that with just the pictures, so it was a pretty shocking experience to see it.”

Two people, including a five-year-old girl, were killed, and 16 more people were critically injured. Over half of the buildings and homes in Pilger were destroyed or severely damaged.

“It will never be the same as it was, of course, but the hope is that there will still be a town there that can start finding whatever that new normal is,” Meyer said. “I think the hope is to try and raise awareness that even though the volunteers are gone, there is still a need there.”

Meyer is a biology professor at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and plays guitar and sings in the central Iowa-based band Monday Mourners. He wrote a song about Pilger, titled “(The Town) Too Tough To Die,” which he plans to premiere at the benefit concert.

Monday Mourners and three bands from Omaha will play the fundraiser show for the town of Pilger tonight at The Waiting Room in Omaha. The music will start at 8 p.m. and there’s a cover charge of $8.

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Disaster aid now available for livestock producers; amount under dispute (AUDIO)

Federal disaster assistance has been made available for livestock losses due to severe weather, even to producers who suffered losses two years ago from drought. But, the amount of aid is in dispute.

Nebraska Farm Service Agency Director Dan Steinkruger agrees Nebraska producers have been hit hard by severe weather the last few years.

“The drought had a substantial impact in our cattle herd in 2012 and 2013 and then we had some unusual events that caused these other livestock losses,” Steinkruger tells Nebraska Radio Network. “So, yeah, we have had more than our share of problems the last couple of years.”

A wide range of severe weather has caused cattle losses in Nebraska.

Drought in 2012 took its toll. Steinkruger says the state lost some cow-calf operations due to the severe drought two years ago. Others lost cattle.

A freak snowstorm in October of 2013 killed cattle in western Nebraska.

The thunderstorms and tornadoes of June this year killed an estimated one thousand head.

The 2014 Farm Bill makes aid to livestock producers retroactive to 2012 through the Livestock Indemnity Program, a fact not all producers understand, according to Steinkruger.

The program itself has come under fire by the Nebraska Congressional delegation, which asserts that the United States Department of Agriculture is miscalculating how much aid should be made available, costly some producers as much as $300 a head.

The delegation has written Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking for a calculation correction. The letter claims some producers who suffered losses in the June tornadoes discovered the USDA used outdated data.

Steinkruger says the USDA is aware of the complaints.

“Those issues really come down to the department’s interpretation of the statutes and the best way to implement them. And that’s really the difference of opinion,” according to Steinkruger. “So, I know the department is taking another look at those issues that were raised by Nebraska’s delegation.”


A copy of the letter can be found below:

July 2, 2014

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We write to request that the Farm Service Agency (FSA) revise its methodology for calculating payment amounts for the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP).

During the week of June 16, 2014, tornadoes devastated the town of Pilger, Nebraska and severely damaged crop and livestock operations in the surrounding area. Producers who had livestock killed by the tornadoes have sought relief from the LIP program that was recently extended by Congress with passage of the 2014 farm bill. But after producers read the payment schedule produced by FSA, they realize they will receive much less from FSA than they are entitled to receive under the statute.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 states that “payments to an eligible producer on a farm… shall be made at a rate of 75 percent of the market value of the applicable livestock on the day before the date of death of the livestock, as determined by the Secretary.” However, the rule implementing LIP states that “The LIP national payment rate for eligible livestock owners is based on 75 percent of the average fair market value of the applicable livestock as computed using nationwide prices for the previous calendar year unless some other price is approved by the Deputy Administrator.”

These are clearly not the same standard. We appreciate that FSA may have some constraints on availability of appropriate data, but it is clearly unfair to producers who expect relief based on the plain language of the law to then find out that the relief received will be significantly less than 75 percent of the market value of their livestock. For example, according to the LIP fact sheet published by FSA in April, the payment rate for feeder steers weighing 800 pounds or more is $1,149, but data from the Agriculture Marketing Service indicate that 75 percent of the average value of an 800-900 pound steer was approximately $1,278 the week before the tornadoes hit Pilger, a difference of $129 per head. Moreover, producers also experienced losses for cattle that were at their finished weight of approximately 1400 pounds. Using the data from the Agriculture Marketing Service, 75 percent of the average value for a finished steer was $1,479, for a difference of $330 per head.

Therefore, we request that you direct FSA to calculate relief for livestock producers based on market values that more accurately reflect the plain reading of the statute.




AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports  [1 min.]

Siouxland schools donate desks, more to tornado-damaged Pilger

The middle school in Pilger shortly after the tornado

The middle school in Pilger shortly after the tornado

A school in northeast Nebraska that was damaged beyond repair in a tornado last month will re-open for classes on time next month, thanks in part to a school district in northwest Iowa.

The 105-year-old Wisner-Pilger Middle School in Pilger was demolished by the EF4 tornado on June 16th.

Superintendent Chad Boyer says he got a call from the superintendent of the Sioux City Public Schools who asked if there was any way his district could help.

“Through our conversations, they did have some furniture that they would like to donate,” Boyer says. “They were closing some buildings and they offered some furniture for our classrooms. We’re expecting about 70 desks, some tables, some shelving, just some things that will get our classrooms ready to go.”

The school has relocated to Wisner this fall where classes will be held in three modular buildings. Boyer says when school starts August 14th, those units will be ready to go.

“Each modular unit has two classrooms with a good amount of space in each one,” Boyer says. “We were very pleased as we got on site and we were able to get into them and see them a little closer. We’re very pleased with the amount of space that we do have.”

Boyer says the furniture will be delivered free of charge by students in the Western Iowa Tech truck-driving program, while a dozen members of the Sioux City East football team will come along to move it.

By Paul Hughes, WJAG, Norfolk




FEMA aid coming to 12 Nebraska counties following storms, floods

Downtown Pilger following the June 16th tornadoes

Downtown Pilger following the June 16th tornadoes

Twelve Nebraska counties are now approved for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

Recovery efforts are still underway for residents across the state who were impacted by the recent severe storms, tornadoes and flooding.

Kevin Garvin, the emergency manager for Cedar County, says the FEMA assistance will greatly help with the public infrastructure.

“As a result of the storm, we suffered damage to a lot of the roads in the county,” Garvin says. “I think there were three or four bridges affected, if not more.”

Garvin says more damage assessments need to be completed to know for sure how much assistance is needed.

“FEMA’s estimate, just on what little they saw when there were here to see if we met the threshhold, was about 1.5-million,” Garvin says. “Depending on the level of damage we find, it could go upwards from there. There’s thoughts it could be two- to three-million.”

Several towns, like Pilger, need the assistance for facilities such as schools as well as road and bridge repair.

The request for Individual Assistance is still pending and Garvin says the counties were not given any expectations for when that request will be completed. Nebraska Emergency Management officials are estimating the storm and flood damage statewide to exceed $13-million.

The counties are getting public assistance from FEMA are: Cedar, Cuming, Dakota, Dixon, Franklin, Furnas, Harlan, Kearney, Phelps, Stanton, Thurston, and Wayne Counties. Individual assistance, which would help individual home owners with the recovery process, was requested for Cedar, Cuming, Dixon, Stanton and Wayne counties.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


The silver lining of June storms: an end to the drought (AUDIO)

One month of well-above-normal rainfall has ended the drought in nearly all of Nebraska. But drought continues to plague a large portion of the United States.

Climatologist Brian Fuchs at the National Drought Mitigation Center on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln east campus says heavy June rains finally broke the drought which began in 2012.

“It’s nice to talk about improvements in the state,” Fuchs says in an interview with Nebraska Radio Network. “I know after the drought of 2012 and some of the lingering dryness last year, we just really had a hard time getting over the hump so to speak and seeing full recovery across the state.”

Drought crept into Nebraska in 2012. Little rain and high temperatures depleted subsoil moisture. Farmers pumped more irrigation that usual to keep crops from burning up. Pastures suffered.

Little relief came the following year. It seemed the drought would enter its third year when June hit.

Hit it did.

Storms shook Nebraska; tornadoes, hail, thunderstorms, straight-line winds, heavy rain left a lot of destruction in their wake. June 16th an EF4 tornado roared through the heart of Pilger, destroying a huge section of the city. Smaller tornadoes hit other cities.

A ray of benefit emerged, though.

Fuchs says the storms dumped above normal amounts of rain on much of the state, replenishing subsoil moisture and ending the drought.


Approximately 7% of Nebraska remains in moderate drought, the lowest severity of drought on the Drought Mitigation Center scale. Southwestern Nebraska, the area basically south of North Platte to the Kansas border around the Republican River still remains dry. A portion of north-central Nebraska remains abnormally dry.

While the storms of June ended drought conditions in the Midwest, portions of the country remain in drought, some severe.

Fuchs says the Southern Plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and portions of New Mexico remain in a drought that spread across that part of the United States in 2010. California and Nevada also have yet to emerge from drought.

While nearly half the United States suffered through drought until this year, about 34% remains in the grips of devastatingly dry conditions.

“A little over a third of the country still is seeing some drought and a little over 10% of the country is seeing extreme drought right now.”

Click here for the latest United States Drought Monitor.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]