July 27, 2014

Gov. Heineman hands out special veteran driver’s licenses (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman has presented four military veterans with special driver’s licenses at a ceremony held at the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home in Bellevue.

“July 1st of this year marked another milestone for honoring veterans here in Nebraska,” Heineman told the veterans. “This was the very first day Nebraska veterans were able to apply to have a veteran’s designation added to their driver’s license or state ID card.”

Heineman presented the driver’s licenses to World War II veteran Joseph Vocelka, Korea War veteran Richard Aube, Vietnam War veteran Grace Ford and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Kimberly Mahlberg.

“And let me just share with you on a personal basis, I have talked with a number of Nebraskans, they are really excited when they see for whatever reason that on your driver’s license that you’re a veteran, they want to say thank you to you. They want to show their appreciation and this is a way for them to know,” Heineman told the veterans during the ceremony.

Heineman said the special driver’s license was only one of a series of bills approved this past legislative session to aid military veterans. Among them, giving veterans preference in employment, provide in-state tuition for veterans, provide income tax exemption for portions of military retirements, and providing homestead exemptions for disabled veterans.

Veterans interested in the special driver’s license can apply with the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs on-line, in person, via email, or FAX. The website is www.veterans.nebraska.gov, phone number 402-0471-2458, and FAX number 402-471-2491.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman holds news conference at Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home. [3 min.]

Gov. Heineman: Hardly anything is left in Pilger (AUDIO)

Aerial view of destruction in Pilger/Photo courtesy of NEMA

Aerial view of destruction in Pilger/Photo courtesy of NEMA

Gov. Dave Heineman toured a devastated community and said recovery for Pilger has just begun.

Heineman traveled to the small northeast Nebraska community of Pilger to observe first-hand the damage done by twin tornadoes.

“It’s total devastation, massive damage, unbelievable damage,” Heineman told Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “Hardly anything is left in Pilger.”

Heineman had already declared a state of emergency in wake of the destruction late Monday afternoon when two tornadoes formed about a mile apart with Pilger directly in the path of the stronger one. The declaration made state resources available to local governments struggling with recovery efforts.

Photo courtesy of NEMA

Photo courtesy of NEMA

Heineman toured the areas hardest hit along with Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Deputy Adjutant General Rick Dahlman, and NEMA preparedness section manager Nikki Weber. The group first viewed the destruction from the air as they flew over the village of about 350.

They then landed for a walk through.

“And then, of course, you’re talking to people and it’s about their home and their business and you can just feel it, the shock, the disbelief; stunned,” Heineman said. “Two tornadoes. I mean, normally, you might get one, but not two. And you’ve lost everything.”

Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger reported between 45 to 50 houses destroyed in Pilger. Unger said five-year-old Calista Dixon was killed when the tornadoes struck Pilger. Nearly 20 others suffered various injuries. The Cuming County Sheriff’s office reports that 74-year-old David Herout of Clarkson was killed in a one-vehicle accident east of Pilger. Officials believe that crash was storm-related, but the incident remains under investigation.

Photo courtesy of NEMA

Photo courtesy of NEMA

The two fatalities were the first deaths recorded due to a tornado in Nebraska in 10 years. The twisters destroyed nearly a dozen homes in Dixon County, according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

Faith Regional Medical Center in Norfolk treated 17 patients; 13 were treated and released, three remain hospitalized in Norfolk and one was transferred to an Omaha hospital. Providence Medical Center in Wayne treated and released three patients, all from the Pilger area, according to NEMA.

The National Weather Service reports the larger of the two tornadoes that formed outside Pilger was an EF4 tornado, with its twin an EF2, a rare phenomenon, according to NWS. As many as four tornadoes formed during the storm, with the other two doing no damage.

A shelter has been opened for victims of the tornado by the American Red Cross at the Wisner-Pilger High School. Bottled water, non-perishable food, diapers have been donated by fellow Nebraskans, even from out of state.

Gov. Heineman talks with victims of Pilger tornado/Photo courtesy of NEMA

Gov. Heineman talks with victims of Pilger tornado/Photo courtesy of NEMA

The Red Cross is organizing volunteers to assist in clean-up beginning this morning at the high school. NEMA says volunteers will be bused in to Pilger and separated into groups to perform debris removal. Volunteers must have a photo ID and are encouraged to wear sturdy work shoes, long pants, hats, work gloves, safety glasses and bring insect repellent and sunscreen (lunch will be provided). Volunteers who arrive directly in Pilger will not be allowed to enter the town, according to NEMA.

Financial donations are being accepted at Midwest Bank branches. Donors are asked to reference the Pilger disaster.

Twenty Nebraska National Guardsmen have been called to state active duty to assist in recovery, primarily from 189th Transportation Company based in Wayne and Norfolk. Five vehicles have been mobilized to support the NEMA.

State Fire Marshal, Jim Heine, reported his office responded to 12 leaking propane tanks. Fire Marshal staff were onsite performing damage assessment of commercial and residential structures.

State Agriculture Director Greg Ibach encourages producers who suffered livestock losses due to the tornadoes to keep detailed records documenting those losses.

Counselors have been made available to those feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the circumstances by calling the Rural Response Hotline at 800-464-0258.

The Nebraska Department of Roads has closed Highway 15 from Hwy 275 (north of Pilger) to Hwy 32 (south of Pilger). This highway will most likely remain closed through June 18 for storm response activity. US Highway 275 is open.

The water supply in Pilger has been affected by the loss of power and pressure. Crews from

Wisner, Madison, and Norfolk have been sent to make repairs. A “boil water” advisory has been issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and will stay in effect until further notice.

Kevin Thomas, KLIN, contributed to this story.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]

Presidential disaster declaration granted for earlier storm

Federal officials have notified the state a request for a presidential disaster declaration has been granted for the parts of Nebraska hit by a May 11th storm system that produced strong thunderstorms, including tornadoes.

Gov. Dave Heineman and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency requested the declaration in wake of widespread damage to public infrastructure, homes, and businesses in Clay, Fillmore, Saline, Saunders, Seward and York Counties.

“Nebraskans appreciate approval of public assistance funding for the Mother’s Day storm,” said Heineman in a prepared statement released by NEMA. “This will assist in the recovery process following storms that caused millions of dollars in damage in the state.”

The declaration frees federal funds to help state and eligible local governments, and certain private nonprofit organizations, to recoup recovery costs.

Some federal funding will be made available also for some counties and tribes in the state.

Twin tornadoes kill two, destory much of northeast Nebraska town

One of the Piger tornadoes/Photo courtesy of Trent Bosler

One of the Pilger tornadoes/Photo courtesy of Trent Bosler

Two people have been killed, much of the small community of Pilger gone, in wake of twin tornadoes that tore through the town in northeast Nebraska.

One of the two killed was a five-year-old. Nearly 20 people suffered injuries in the storms; some serious.

Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger reports the first tornado touched down in Station County late Monday afternoon. A second tornado touched down shortly afterward southwest of Pilger. It hit the town hard, destroying several major buildings, including the Wisner-Pilger Middle School, which might well be beyond repair.

Unger estimates the tornadoes destroyed half to three-quarters of the town.

A spokeswoman for Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk reports the hospital is treating 16 patients, suffering various injuries from the storm. Some have been released. Some will undergo surgery. One has been transferred to a hospital in Omaha for treatment.

Providence Medical Center in nearby Wayne treated three injured in the storm. Two have been released. A third patient is reported in stable condition.

Gov. Dave Heineman is touring the damage.

Heineman says Pilger will have to lean on its reputation to recovery from this devastating storm.

“Well, you know the motto of Pilger is ‘The little town too tough to die,’ and I assure you, I know some of these residents, they’re too tough to die,” Heineman tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WJAG in Norfolk. “They’re going to clean up and rebuild. This is a great community.”

Heineman says the state is poised to help in recovery, once damage has been assessed, including how much of the damage is covered by private insurance.

“So, you’ve got to determine where private insurance coverage (comes in),” Heineman explains. “When we start talking about our side of the equation, Nebraska Emergency Management and FEMA, it’s public infrastructure in particular. And so, these determinations are way too early. We need to assess the damage. That’s going to take some time.”

Heineman says he will use the Governor’s Emergency Fund to cover activation of the National Guard and other costs. He says 20 National Guard members are on standby today at the Wayne Armory, ready to assist wherever they are needed in Stanton County.

Susan Risinger, WJAG, contributed to this story.


Gov. Heineman makes disaster declaration after touring damage


Photo courtesy of Governor’s Office

Gov. Dave Heineman has issued a state disaster declaration for portions of Nebraska hit hard by tornadoes at the end of last weekend.

Heineman made the declaration through the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency after touring damage at Beaver Crossing, Cordova, and Sutton with Al Berndt, Assistant Director of NEMA.

Storms Sunday spawned at least a dozen tornadoes that cut a path of destruction from approximately 90 miles, from west of Sutton to Omaha.

“I am always impressed with the citizens of our state and their desire to work together to assist one another in times of difficulty,” Heineman said in a written statement released by his office. “I appreciate seeing the affected areas today and speaking with the responders and volunteers on the ground. I am declaring a state of emergency and we are providing necessary assistance as our communities begin the process of putting their lives back together after a natural disaster.”

By declaring an official state of emergency, Heineman made state personnel and resources available to assist local governments in clean-up. It also allows the governor to deploy the Nebraska National Guard and NEMA resources as needed. Twenty Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers from the 92nd Troop Command have been mobilized to state active duty to come to the aid of local emergency management officials.


While touring Beaver Crossing, Gov. Heineman spoke with Terry and JoAnn Paulsen who sustained major damage to their home/Photo courtesy of Governor’s Office

The governor’s office reports widespread damage from the storms to homes, businesses, and public infrastructure in Clay, Fillmore, Seward, York, Lancaster, Hamilton, Jefferson, Douglas, Sarpy and Saunders Counties.

NEMA staff has been sent to the damaged areas to make formal assessments.

The storms even have had an effect on today’s Primary Election.

A couple of polling sites will have to move due to storm damage in Seward County. County Clerk Sherry Schweitzer says voters who usually cast ballots at the Cordova location will shift to the Utica Senior Center. Votes who cast ballots at Beaver Crossing will go to the Goehner Fire Hall instead.

Voters in Sutton will be able to vote as usual at the Senior Community Center, despite the fact that the storm knocked out its power. Clay County Clerk Deborah Karnatz says a generator is being moved to the center to provide power.

Scotts Bluff County is dealing with a different issue: ten inches of snow. Nevertheless, County Clerk Vera Dulaney says all the county polling places should be accessible for the primary.