Tornadoes flatten tiny rural Nebraska town; 2 dead - 7News Boston WHDH-TV

Tornadoes flatten tiny rural Nebraska town; 2 dead

Posted: Updated:
PILGER, Neb. (AP) - As two giant tornadoes bore down on tiny Pilger, Nebraska, Trey Wisniewski heard the storm sirens, glanced out at the blackening sky and rushed with his wife into their basement.

"My wife was holding our animals, and I was holding on to my wife. We could feel the suction try to pull us out of there," he said Tuesday.

Suddenly, their house was gone, leaving them to dodge debris that rained down upon them. And then, the storm that hit so suddenly Monday afternoon was gone, allowing them to emerge and see what was left of their 350-person farming town.

They found much of the community was gone and learned two people had died.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman flew over Pilger in a helicopter Tuesday morning and then walked through the town, trailed by reporters.

"This is by far the worst thing I've ever seen as governor," Heineman said.

One of those killed was a 5-year-old girl, Calista Dixon, said Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger said. The other was a motorist killed during the storm, David A. Herout, 74, of Clarkson, Nebraska. He died in Cuming County, a few miles from Pilger.

"I am amazed that ... out of all of this destruction only two people were killed," Wisniewski said.

At least 19 people were taken to hospitals.

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.

The tornado destroyed much of the small downtown, leaving piles of bricks that had been storefronts in the street. Several grain bins on the south end of Main Street were swept away and others remained crumpled on the ground.

From the street, residents walking through their town could peer directly into a mortuary and bank.

Homes south and west of downtown fared even worse, with most reduced to piles of debris or gone entirely.

While the governor said he was confident the community would rebuild, business owner Linda Oertwich wasn't so sure.

"Pilger's too small and the devastation in these homes will cost too much to rebuild," said Oertwich, who will decide whether to rebuild her Village Bar and Cafe after hearing from her insurance company.

The tornado swept away the house Larry Nelson, 73, had lived in for 23 years, leaving nothing but the cinderblock foundation. Because he didn't have a basement, Nelson rushed to a neighbor's house when sirens sounded.

"I'm grateful that I was over there," Nelson said, pointing to his neighbor's house.

The storm was part of a larger system that tracked across the nation's midsection Monday.

Pilger was hit by one of twin twisters, which roared for miles through northeast Nebraska. The tornadoes were of roughly equal size, about a mile apart. The northern twister, confirmed as at least an EF3 tornado, struck the town before the two merged, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm appears to have produced four tornadoes in all, said Van DeWald, lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Valley, Nebraska.

It was the size and intensity of the dual tornadoes that made them rare, said Nebraska State Climatologist Al Dutcher, noting that usually one tornado weakens and shrinks in such a situation.

Dutcher said a lack of thunderstorms helped increase the tornadoes' strength because they had no competition for wind and moisture in the atmosphere.

"It speaks wonders about the amount of instability that was in the atmosphere," Dutcher said. "This was a highly volatile situation where once something got going, it really got going."

Crews planned to examine the area Tuesday to determine the intensity of the twin tornadoes, said Barbara Mayes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Valley, Nebraska.

Authorities said the first tornado touched down around 3:45 p.m. and downed several power lines before it leveled a farmhouse. The 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.

Heineman declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard was preparing to assist local emergency responders and help with the cleanup. A shelter for displaced residents was established at Wisner-Pilger Jr.-Sr. High School in nearby Wisner.

Tornadoes also caused damage in Cuming and Wayne counties, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said in a news release. Meteorologists also tracked a reported tornado near the town of Burwell, in central Nebraska.
  • U.S. & World NewsMore>>

  • 32 teens escape from Nashville detention center

    32 teens escape from Nashville detention center

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 10:01 AM EDT2014-09-02 14:01:14 GMT
    A spokesman says more than 30 teens escaped from a Nashville youth detention center and 17 are still being sought.[more]
    Thirty-two teens escaped from a Nashville youth detention center by crawling under a weak spot in a fence late Monday, and 10 of them were still on the run Tuesday, a spokesman said.[more]
  • School starts in Chicago with more safety guards

    School starts in Chicago with more safety guards

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 9:32 AM EDT2014-09-02 13:32:09 GMT
    Chicago children will walk past even more guards on their first day of school than last year, when concerns about safety prompted the city to line the streets with 1,200 adults every day.[more]
    Chicago children returned to school Tuesday walking past even more guards than last year, when concerns about safety prompted the city to line the streets with 1,200 adults every day.[more]
  • UK deputy leader criticizes tumor-boy case

    UK deputy leader criticizes tumor-boy case

    Tuesday, September 2 2014 9:32 AM EDT2014-09-02 13:32:03 GMT
    U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says it is inappropriate to throw the full weight of the law at a family who spirited their ill 5-year-old child out of the country in order for him to receive a revolutionary...[more]
    U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Tuesday it was inappropriate to throw the full weight of the law at a couple who took their ill 5-year-old child to Spain in hope of getting a revolutionary type of radiation...[more]
  • Stay Connected

  • Like Us on Facebook
  • Follow Us on Twitter
Powered by WorldNow

WHDH TV 7NBC WLVI TV CW56
Sunbeam Television Corp
7 Bulfinch Place
Boston, MA 02114

News Tips: (800) 280-TIPS
Tell Hank: (855) 247-HANK
Corporate Media Services: (800) 642-1551

Can't find something?
Connect with us here:
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WHDH. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.