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Pilger reflects on five years since tornadoes struck town

Posted at 8:17 PM, Jun 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-16 21:17:44-04

PILGER, Neb. (KMTV) — It was June 16, 2014 when two EF4 tornadoes destroyed most of Pilger, Nebraska. It's a date that seems like yesterday for Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger who had first responders from surrounding communities help rescue storm victims.

"As I turned onto what would be First Street in town, I saw numerous people walking toward the highway and it looked like they had a thousand-yard stare as if they just came from a war zone," Sheriff Unger said. "Many of them were covered in debris and dirt."

The aftermath of one of the tornadoes can still be seen today. The foundation and tile of a convenience store is still left behind. Across the block, new buildings and businesses have replaced old buildings that were torn apart by the storm.

One of the biggest impacts of the disaster is the loss of people living in Pilger. About 350 people used to live there, but Sheriff Unger says that number is down to about 200 now because the storm leveled homes and Pilger's middle school.

Down the street, homeowner Tabitha Streeter has lived here for 12 years. She's seen and felt the decrease in population. Streeter hopes that people will move to Pilger to help improve the sense of community.

"It would be really nice for more children to come in to town because that was the fun part, seeing kids fly around on their bikes and having a good time," Streeter said.

Streeter says her home has been restored after $50,000 dollars worth of damage. The storm ripped off her roof and broke windows and doors. With time, she says it's easier to appreciate what new things came after the storm.

"It makes you sad because of what used to be there, but you see beautiful things now like the building green structures and how nice the bank is and our beautiful community center that we have," Streeter said. "That makes you proud that it's getting nicer."

June 16, 2014 was the toughest day of Sheriff Unger's 26-year career. He says the town came out stronger and better prepared for another storm as a result of the damage.

"Pilger is a resilient little town like a lot of Nebraska towns," Sheriff Unger said. "They're Nebraska strong, but Pilger has its own motto, 'a town too tough to die,' and I think that hits right at the top."

Locals say they notice an increase in traffic during the anniversary of the storm to check out the rebuilding process.

Other parts of Pilger that have been repaired include the town's library, farmer's co-op and post office.