Emergency workers are helping residents of a rural Nebraska town pick up the pieces after a tornado flattened homes and businesses earlier this week. The twister was part of a set of tornadoes that traveled side by side for an extended period time—a rare weather event.
One of the tornadoes destroyed nearly all the buildings in Pilger, a 350-person farming town in northeast Nebraska. Many homes were reduced to debris or swept away. Two people were killed, and at least 19 were taken to the hospital.
"This is by far the worst thing I've ever seen as governor," said Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. On Tuesday morning, he walked through Pilger to take in the damage, trailed by reporters.
Heineman declared a state of emergency, which dispatched the National Guard to help with cleanup. A shelter was set up in a nearby town for displaced residents.
The twin twisters were about equal in size and a mile apart. They were part of a larger system that hit the central part of the U.S. on Monday. The pair roared for miles through northeast Nebraska before eventually uniting.
Nebraska State Climatologist Al Dutcher says the size and intensity of the dual tornadoes were rare. Usually, one tornado weakens and shrinks. But the twisters were strengthened by a lack of thunderstorms in the area. Thunderstorms compete with tornadoes for wind and moisture in the atmosphere.
"It speaks wonders about the amount of instability that was in the atmosphere," Dutcher told the Associated Press. "This was a highly [unpredictable] situation where once something got going, it really got going."
Tornadoes have continued to sweep the plains after Monday’s storm. The National Weather Service received reports of tornadoes across five states on Tuesday. At least two large twisters formed in Nebraska. One slow-moving twister touched down about 45 miles from Pilger, according to weather.com.
In Pilger, the cleanup effort from Monday’s storm damage will be massive. Still, Governor Heineman says he is confident the community will rebuild.