Two killed as massive tornado rips through small US town
A storm packing rare dual tornadoes tore through a tiny farming town in the central US state of Nebraska, killing a motorist and a five-year-old girl and flattening dozens of homes.
Pilger's 350 residents evacuated their homes after the powerful twisters slammed into the area yesterday.
Stanton County Sheriff's Office said a five-year-old child was killed in Pilger but did not identify the child or provide details of the circumstances. Stanton County Sheriff's deputy Josh Bennett said the child was a girl.
Police also said a motorist died in a single-vehicle accident just east of Pilger as the storm pounded the area. State patrol confirmed that a male driver died in Cuming County.
At least 19 people were taken to hospital.
Stanton County Commissioner Jerry Weatherholt said: "More than half of the town is gone - absolutely gone. The co-op is gone, the grain bins are gone, and it looks like almost every house in town has some damage. It's a complete mess."
Emergency crews and residents spent the evening sifting through demolished homes and businesses in the town north west of Omaha. Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger estimated that 50% to 75% of Pilger was heavily damaged or destroyed and the school is beyond repair.
"It's total devastation," Mr Unger said.
Authorities said the first tornado touched down and downed several power lines before it levelled a farmhouse. The second tornado was spotted south west of Pilger, according to Stanton County Sheriff's Office. Shortly afterwards, the town suffered a "direct hit" that levelled several buildings, including the Fire Department building.
The storm was part of a larger system that started to track across the US midsection yesterday afternoon. More storms are forecast, stretching from eastern Montana to New York, but the system is not likely to be as powerful as yesterday, said Steve Corfidi, lead forecaster at the Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma.
The National Weather Service said the two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other. Crews plan to examine the area to determine their intensity, said Barbara Mayes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"It's less common for two tornadoes to track together for so long, especially with that same intensity," she said. "By no means is it unprecedented. But we don't see it often."
Police plan to allow residents to return today to survey the damage and gather valuables. Stanton County Sheriff's Office said law enforcement would escort residents to their properties.
Nebraska governor Dave Heineman declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard is preparing to assist local emergency responders and help with the clean-up.