Life after twin tornados hit

Last updated 13:42 18/06/2014

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Tornados level half of Nebraska town

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As two giant tornados bore down on the tiny farming town of Pilger, 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.

Suddenly, their house was gone, leaving them to dodge debris that rained down upon them.

And then, the storm that hit so suddenly was gone, allowing them to emerge and see what was left of the 350-person settlement in rural northeast Nebraska.

Much of the community was gone and two people had died.

The disaster, delivered by twin twisters rare in how forcefully they travelled side by side for an extended period, left some residents doubting whether the town could rebuild, even as they marvelled that the death toll hadn't been worse.

"This is by far the worst thing I've ever seen as governor," said Governor Dave Heineman, as he toured the destruction.

One of those killed was a 5-year-old girl, Calista Dixon, said Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger.

Cody Murphree, the girl's brother, said in a statement that his mother, 42-year-old Kandi Murphree, was in a medically induced coma in Omaha after the tornado destroyed their home.

The other fatality was a motorist, David Herout, 74. He died in Cuming County, just east of Pilger.

At least 19 people were taken to hospitals.

Up to 75 percent of the buildings in Pilger were heavily damaged or destroyed. The tornados 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.

Between 45 and 50 homes in Pilger were demolished; about a dozen others were damaged beyond repair in Dixon County.

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

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

While the governor said he was confident the community would rebuild, cafe 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 neighbour's house when sirens sounded.

"I'm grateful that I was over there," Nelson said.

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

Pilger was hit by one of twin twisters, which roared for through northeast Nebraska. The tornados were of roughly equal size, about 1.5km apart. The northern twister, confirmed as an EF4 tornado, struck the town before the two merged, according to the US National Weather Service.

The storm appeared to have produced four tornados in all, meteorologist Van DeWald said.

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- AP

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