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Nebraska

Tornadoes flatten town; 2 dead

Up to 75 percent of buildings damaged

  • Two tornados approach  Pilger, Neb., Monday June 16, 2014.  The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other Monday in northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/Eric Anderson)

    Two tornados approach Pilger, Neb., Monday June 16, 2014. The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other Monday in northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/Eric Anderson)

  • This framgrab taken from video provided by StormChasingVideo.com shows a tornado approaching Pilger, Neb., Monday June 16, 2014.  The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other Monday in northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/StormChasingVideo.com)

    This framgrab taken from video provided by StormChasingVideo.com shows a tornado approaching Pilger, Neb., Monday June 16, 2014. The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other Monday in northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/StormChasingVideo.com)

  • A woman walks down Black Hills Trail road in Pilger, Neb., Monday, June 16, 2014. At least one person is dead and at least 16 more are in critical condition after two massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)

    A woman walks down Black Hills Trail road in Pilger, Neb., Monday, June 16, 2014. At least one person is dead and at least 16 more are in critical condition after two massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)

  • Jaime, right, and Jeff Hoadley, of Madison, Neb., look over the property next to her parents' home and St. John's Lutheran Church, where Jaime's father is pastor, in Pilger, Neb., after tornadoes moved through the area Monday, June 16, 2014. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska, killing a 5-year-old girl, leaving grain bins crumpled like discarded soda cans and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly)

    Jaime, right, and Jeff Hoadley, of Madison, Neb., look over the property next to her parents' home and St. John's Lutheran Church, where Jaime's father is pastor, in Pilger, Neb., after tornadoes moved through the area Monday, June 16, 2014. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska, killing a 5-year-old girl, leaving grain bins crumpled like discarded soda cans and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly)

  • Tim Nelson  searches for survivors in Pilger, Neb.,  after the town was hit by a tornado Monday June 16, 2014.  Ast least one person has died due to the storm.  (AP Photo/The Omaha World-Herald/Ryan Soderlin)  MAGS OUT; ALL NEBRASKA LOCAL BROADCAST TV OUT

    Tim Nelson searches for survivors in Pilger, Neb., after the town was hit by a tornado Monday June 16, 2014. Ast least one person has died due to the storm. (AP Photo/The Omaha World-Herald/Ryan Soderlin) MAGS OUT; ALL NEBRASKA LOCAL BROADCAST TV OUT

  • The Tuesday morning photo shows Larry Nelson, 73, surveys what’s left of his home on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 in Pilger, Neb.  A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska on Monday.  Nelson survived the afternoon tornado by taking shelter in a neighbor’s basement.  (AP Photo/Josh Funk)

    The Tuesday morning photo shows Larry Nelson, 73, surveys what’s left of his home on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 in Pilger, Neb. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska on Monday. Nelson survived the afternoon tornado by taking shelter in a neighbor’s basement. (AP Photo/Josh Funk)

  • Two tornados approach  Pilger, Neb., Monday June 16, 2014.  The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other Monday in northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/Eric Anderson)
  • This framgrab taken from video provided by StormChasingVideo.com shows a tornado approaching Pilger, Neb., Monday June 16, 2014.  The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other Monday in northeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/StormChasingVideo.com)
  • A woman walks down Black Hills Trail road in Pilger, Neb., Monday, June 16, 2014. At least one person is dead and at least 16 more are in critical condition after two massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska on Monday. (AP Photo/Mark 'Storm' Farnik)
  • Jaime, right, and Jeff Hoadley, of Madison, Neb., look over the property next to her parents' home and St. John's Lutheran Church, where Jaime's father is pastor, in Pilger, Neb., after tornadoes moved through the area Monday, June 16, 2014. A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska, killing a 5-year-old girl, leaving grain bins crumpled like discarded soda cans and flattening dozens of homes. (AP Photo/The Norfolk Daily News, Darin Epperly)
  • Tim Nelson  searches for survivors in Pilger, Neb.,  after the town was hit by a tornado Monday June 16, 2014.  Ast least one person has died due to the storm.  (AP Photo/The Omaha World-Herald/Ryan Soderlin)  MAGS OUT; ALL NEBRASKA LOCAL BROADCAST TV OUT
  • The Tuesday morning photo shows Larry Nelson, 73, surveys what’s left of his home on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 in Pilger, Neb.  A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through the tiny farming town in northeast Nebraska on Monday.  Nelson survived the afternoon tornado by taking shelter in a neighbor’s basement.  (AP Photo/Josh Funk)

As two giant tornadoes bore down on the tiny farming town of Pilger in northeast 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 onto my wife. We could feel the suction try to pull us out of there,” he said yesterday.

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 the 350-person farming town.

They found that 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 marveled that the death toll hadn’t been worse.

“This is by far the worst thing I’ve ever seen as governor,” said Gov. Dave Heineman, who flew over Pilger in a helicopter yesterday morning and then walked through the town, trailed by reporters.

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

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.

“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 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.

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