Residents of Nebraska town return after deadly tornado

Tue Jun 17, 2014 4:09pm EDT
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By Michael Avok

PILGER Neb. (Reuters) - Residents who were forced to leave a small town in Nebraska leveled by a tornado that killed a child and injured more than two dozen people began returning on Tuesday to salvage belongings from their battered homes and businesses.

The town of Pilger, just several blocks wide and home to about 350 people, took a direct hit on Monday afternoon as large tornadoes swept across a farming area in northeast Nebraska, devastating up to 75 percent of its buildings, officials said.

"Pilger is gone," said Sanford Goshorn, director of emergency management for Stanton County. "The tornado cut right through the center of town."

Preliminary estimates from surveys on Tuesday found several EF-4 damage points in Pilger, the weather service in Omaha said. EF-4, the second most severe rating for a tornado, indicates cyclonic winds of up to 200 mph (320 kph).

A 5-year-old girl died in a mobile home and a second person died in a traffic crash east of town, Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger told reporters. More than two dozen people were treated for storm injuries at hospitals, officials said. Pilger, about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Omaha, was the hardest-hit town in a three-county area. Among the damaged or destroyed buildings were the town hall, fire department, post office, library and school, Unger said.

Brian Reeg, who lives in nearby Winside, stood bewildered, looking at a pile of rubble that had been St. John's Lutheran Church in Pilger.

"This is where I was baptized, where I was married and went to church my whole life," Reeg said.

Mark Aken, 58, who moved to Pilger three weeks ago, said he did not even have time to unpack at the home he rented near the flattened church.   Continued...

Debris is pictured in the town of Pilger, Nebraska June 17, 2014.  REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom