Twin EF4 Tornados Destroy Pilger Nebraska
On Monday June 16th, the weather stations kept millions of people in “Tornado Alley” alert to the growing threat of impending tornadoes. It only took one look skyward to know they were right. Before long, like giant claws, twin EF4 tornadoes swept down and destroyed a town of 350 people, Pilger, Nebraska. The Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF scale) rates the strength of tornadoes in the United States and Canada based on the damage they cause.
The tornadoes claimed the life of a 74 year old man, a 5 year old girl and critically injured 16 people. The main street had only one structure left standing. The post office, fire station, store, bank, co-op, church, school and over half of the homes were all destroyed in just a few minutes.
Sterling Central School, a PBCC School in Council Bluffs, (1.5 hours from Pilger) was mercifully spared the devastation. In keeping with school tradition, the undergraduates had planned a farewell event for the graduating senior class during the same week. They were looking forward to a picnic by the Platte River and then an air boat ride on Wednesday June 18th, one of the last days of school. On Tuesday evening, the tour company phoned to say that the storms had riled the river up and there was too much debris to navigate the river in safety.
The undergraduates were determined to still do something for their graduating class but what in such short notice? While everyone was conversing one of the postgraduates happened to say, “You know, the storm changed all your plans and I’m sure there are a lot of people in Pilger who have had to change their plans as well”. It was like a light bulb went on and yes, the people in Pilger needed help and the students had time on our hands. So at 9:30 PM calls were made to the emergency team and they said they would be more than glad of the help. By 6:00 AM the next morning two van loads of students, and supervisors were on their way!
They parked in a nearby town and were signed in and registered with the American Red Cross and then were bused to – what used to be- Pilger. They were given sections of the town to work in and were told the homeowners and businesses would request help as they needed it. These poor people were very traumatized as they were just getting back in to see the damage themselves, some for the first time.
The students spent time helping people find anything personal that could be salvaged and making personal “piles”. Some houses were completely gone, some houses had been lifted and set down sideways. They also worked at the school for a while where over half of the third floor is just plain gone. It was heart wrenching to watch students and teachers look over what use to be their classrooms. All the students agreed that words nor pictures can describe what they saw and witnessed as they worked.
The temperature climbed to over 90 degrees that day and needless to say all 13 of the volunteers arrived home very hot and tired. But no one was complaining after all the suffering they had witnessed that day…and they all agreed that the Senior Day Out in 2014 will never be forgotten.