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.
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.
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.
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.]