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photo:Kelly Pargett
Kelly Pargett
Community Specialist (IA, NE, SD, UT)
(402) 327-5604
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Pilger, Nebraska,
28
February
2017

Putting Your Life On The Line

Heroes emerge during rare tornado event

Can you imagine driving toward this tornado instead of running to safety? That’s what Fire Marshal Kory Koehlmoos did.

The town tornado siren was damaged. If the residents were to have any warning at all, Kory would have to turn it on manually. He drove right toward the twin tornado, away from safety, to give people a fighting chance.

Kory was not the only hero that day. The president of the local bank risked his life for his work family, securing their safety at the sake of his own. “I was resigned to the fact that I probably was not going to survive,” said Gene Willers.

Pilger Twin Tornado GIF

Although only one tornado went down Main Street in Pilger, the twin funnels cleared everything in their path. Businesses, 73 homes, a school, farmland and twenty grain bins became flying shrapnel and deadly debris.

The storm received national attention by meteorologists because of the rarity of twin tornados. They dubbed Pilger, “A Town too Tough to Die.” News outlets from across the nation formed lines of vehicles on the highway capturing the aftermath of the storm and the resilience of the community.

What they saw was 16,000 volunteers from all 50 states helping in any way they could and locals taking in their neighbors who lost everything. In this part of Nebraska, agriculture is the main source of revenue for residents. Fortunately, volunteers and neighbors walked the farm fields to pick up bits of metal - even small pieces of debris can ruin a combine.

“The amount of volunteers that showed up to assist with cleanup after the Pilger tornado was very humbling. Volunteers were willing to do anything they were asked to do and we couldn’t have moved forward as quickly without them,” said Kim Neiman, Pilger Village Clerk.

Even after the crowds of journalists and volunteers dissipated, Pilger and the surrounding communities continued the hard work putting their towns back together. Some of the businesses on Main Street in Pilger have brand new buildings and more continue to be constructed.

The Wisner-Pilger School was destroyed in the storm system. Teachers lost their classroom and years’ worth of books and other teaching materials. Computers, projectors, and other electronics were never found. State Farm was able to assist the school district with funding to purchase classroom materials and replace the destroyed playground equipment.

When, not if…

It is often said, it isn’t if disaster is going to strike, it’s when.

infographic

“You never think a tornado is going to hit your town, but it can happen anywhere," shared Kory.

Be prepared. Know the warning signs of a tornado.