Pilger, NE -
On Wednesday the first wave of volunteers were let into Pilger to start helping clean up, but disaster specialists and numerous agencies have been there since the hours after the storm that killed two people and injured more passed through.
“Everything was good, books were not wet, they weren’t dirty,” says Lori Ruskamp, as she stands inside the darkened, but partially roofless, community library among boxes of books.
Ruskamp, Pilger’s Librarian, says when power went out in the building on Monday, she felt like she should leave. She made it a few miles outside of Pilger just as an EF 4 tornado tore through town. “We came out five minutes later and I saw the tornado north of Pilger - it was huge, it was black - but, I just, I mean I can’t thank God enough for getting me out of here,” she says.
As rescuers and residents started combing through what was left, dozens of agencies were mobilizing.
“We opened up a shelter for the residents immediately, so we try to take care of people’s immediate needs - food, clothing, shelter, comfort, and care,” says Cindy Pfennig, American Red Cross disaster preparedness specialist.
The Nebraska Department of Roads, State Patrol, and National Guard are helping with traffic and keeping what’s left of the community safe.
“I’m from Wayne, we had a tornado last October, and of course all the communities came and helped us, so it’s a chance for us to give back a little bit,” says Sgt. First Class Brendan Dorcey, who joins 19 others guardsmen in securing Pilger 24 hours a day.
The state fire marshal’s office is watching for leaky propane tanks and more building collapse. And as insurance adjusters, home, and business owners make long term decisions, groups like the Salvation Army focus on keeping residents and volunteers fed and hydrated now.
“We have no idea -- it could be weeks, it could be months -- but we stay here until it’s finished,” says Wilma Knapp, administrative assistant at the Salvation Army in Norfolk.
Agencies say they work together to fill as many needs as possible as the area starts down a long road of recovery.
“So many of our volunteers have specialty roles and everyone knows what they need to do when they get here and all of our great partners that come together in times of need to help out a community,” says Pfennig.
“It’s hard to see it, and it’s hard to see the people coming back into their homes and that sort of stuff,” says Dorcey. “Some things will get rebuilt and some things won’t, I mean it’s a small town community it’s… some things just won’t get rebuilt,” says Ruskamp. While a lot of the focus has been on Pilger, dozens of homes, farms, and buildings in rural areas were destroyed by this tornadic storm too. Power companies have sent mutual aid, and the Department of Ag is trying to help producers with their losses.