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Nebraska Tornadoes Cause Destruction in Town of Pilger; 5 Tornadoes Confirmed in the Area

By Sean Breslin
Published: July 3, 2014

Gregg Moeller was in disbelief as he surveyed the broken landscape in Pilger, Nebraska, shortly after a massive tornado nearly wiped the town off the map.

"It was like God dragged two fingernails across the land," Moeller told the Norfolk Daily News.

Now, the town will face an extended cleanup period following Nebraska's first killer tornado since 2004. The National Weather Service, while surveying the damage Tuesday afternoon, found several damage points consistent with an EF4 tornado.

(PHOTOS: The Deadly Midwest Tornado Outbreak)

The NWS reports five tornadoes were spawned in the region from Monday's outbreak. A tornado near Stanton was upgraded to an EF4 on Wednesday after a preliminary survey, and the twin tornadoes that terrorized Pilger have also both been rated at least EF4. The fourth twister, spotted near Pender, was also rated at least EF4 and an initial tornado that touched down briefly in Stanton was rated an EF0. 

Two people were killed in the violent storms. Five-year-old Calista Dixon died after her family's mobile home on Main Street in Pilger was struck by a tornado. Her mother is still in critical condition at Creighton University Medical Center, but her 4-year-old sister escaped with only minor injuries. 

David Herout, 74, of Clarkson died after being ejected from his vehicle after the twisters moved the car off the road, Cuming County officials said. 

The Associated Press reports at least 19 others were hospitalized. Many of those patients were released on Tuesday but a few – including Calista Dixon's mother, Kandi Murphree ​– remained hospitalized. 

The storm left "total devastation" in Pilger, a village of about 380 people. Gov. Dave Heineman declared a state of emergency, allowing the National Guard to be deployed into the area, according to KMTV. 

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

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama declared a disaster in parts of southeastern and eastern Nebraska. The declaration means federal emergency aid is available to supplement recovery efforts being conducted by state and local officials. The funding will also be available to certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis.

Shortly after the twister was broadcast live on The Weather Channel, damage photos began to circulate, showing the intensity of the storm. 

Minutes later, two tornadoes were spotted approaching the town of Pilger and grew in size, lofting debris into the air on live television.

Storm chaser Reed Timmer and his crew followed the storm closely and posted a photo of damage in Pilger after the twister hit the town.

The twister was on the ground for more than an hour, according to The Weather Channel's severe weather expert Dr. Greg Postel. Storm chasers in the area described the damage as "catastrophic." Cement steps were torn out of the ground and thrown by the tornado, Omaha.com reported.

"More than half of the town is gone — absolutely gone," Stanton County Commissioner Jerry Weatherholt said. "The co-op is gone, the grains bins are gone, and it looks like almost every house in town has some damage. It's a complete mess."

During a Tuesday morning press briefing, officials said 100 percent of the small town's businesses were destroyed.

(MORE: Victims Tell Their Stories of Survival)

Wisner-Pilger schools superintendent Chad Boyer is in the tornado-leveled northeast Nebraska town of Pilger, looking to assess the damage done to Wisner-Pilger Public School's middle school.

Boyer was among those lined up Tuesday morning on a highway just outside Pilger, which was devastated Monday afternoon by twin tornadoes that killed two people.

Officials said late Monday that the school is likely beyond repair.

Tuesday morning, Boyer sat behind the wheel of a truck pulling a small utility trailer in the line to get into town. His plan is to salvage what he can from the school.

Boyer says he's just grateful the tornadoes didn't hit while classes were in session.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

South Dakota Tornadoes

South Dakota Tornadoes

Storm chaser Roger Hill and his tour group, Silver Lining Tours, saw a total of eight tornadoes during their chase Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in South Dakota. (Roger Hill/Silver Lining Tours)

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