PILGER – Pilger, Nebraska….an emblematic Nebraska small town. Day to day, it’s residents don’t draw much attention from the rest of the world.
But on June 16th, 2014 for a few terrifying moments Pilger was the center of the universe.
The Stanton County town of 365 people found itself in the direct path of a destructive outbreak of violent tornadoes.
The first major tornado touched down southwest of Stanton traveling northeast, building to EF-4 strength and destroying homes and outbuildings as it crossed Highway 57.
The second EF-4 tornado continued its path northeast, while a twin, nearly identical tornado continued on an almost parallel path. The two paths of devastation would eventually meet up before dissipating.
Soon after, another EF-4 storm developed destroying outbuildings and tearing roofs off homes near Wakefield.
Two people were killed…5-year old Calista Dixon of Pilger and 74-year old David Herout of Clarkson. 16 others were injured.
The storm outbreak caused an estimated 21 million dollars worth of damage…and were part of a larger nationwide outbreak of storms. From June 16th to the 18th…the National Weather Service confirmed 76 different tornadoes nationwide, including an EF-3 tornado near Coleridge on June 17th.
The tornado outbreak caused widespread devastation and left residents wondering in the immediate aftermath what’s next? Where do you go when you’ve lost everything?
In the months that followed residents of Stanton, Cuming, Wayne and Dixon counties banded together to form a committee that would deal with the aftermath.
This group helped coordinate disaster relief and eventually created a support system that helped townsfolk begin to develop long-term strategies for rebuilding.
Businesses pledged their support, with Farmers Co-Op and Midwest Bank both rebuilding in Pilger.
Not everything came back though. The Wisner-Pilger school district elected to not reopen the Pilger Middle School, moving it instead to Wisner.
But overall, the recovery showed what kinds of things are possible when Nebraskans band together.