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Deadly Nebraska tornado swarm kills two and injures 'dozens' as state of emergency declared

Rare massive dual twisters flattened the whole of Pilger, a small town in the north-east of the state

A deadly super-cell thunderstorm system bringing a swarm of tornadoes has ripped through towns and villages in north-east Nebraska, US, killing a five-year-old and a motorist and injuring dozens of people.

A state of emergency has been declared by Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, as officials announced that the small town of Pilger was simply “gone” in the wake of the storm.

The Stanton County Sheriff's office said two people had been confirmed dead, a five-year-old girl and a man driving in nearby Cuming County.

Local hospitals in Norfolk and Wayne reported 19 patients from the Pilger storm between them, while according to the Omaha World Herald nine more victims from the storms were treated at three other area hospitals.

Extraordinary video footage captured by storm chasers showed two massive tornadoes, very close to each other, tearing across farmland near the larger town of Stanton.

The National Weather Service said the twisters touched down within roughly a mile (1.6km) of each other, and that it was extremely rare for two such powerful tornadoes to hit at the same time and place.

Experts said they appeared to be class EF-2 or EF-3 – meaning they brought winds of up to 165 mph (265 kph).


Authorities said the first tornado touched down around 3.45pm local time and brought down several power lines before flattening a farmhouse. Four people were trapped inside.

While local crews removed them from the debris, a second tornado was spotted south-west of Pilger, the Stanton County Sheriff's Office told reporters.

Shortly afterwards, the town suffered a “direct hit”, the sheriff’s office said, which levelled several buildings including a fire station and a school.

“Pilger is gone,” said Sanford Goshorn, director of emergency management for Stanton County. “The tornado cut right through the centre of town.” He added that electricity, water and sewage services were all completely knocked out.

Weather officials said a number of additional tornadoes or funnel clouds were detected in central Nebraska, behind the first wave of storms that appeared to dissipate as it moved eastward. The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency received reports of injuries and damage throughout Stanton, Cuming and Wayne counties, spokeswoman Jodie Fawl said.

Faced with a landscape littered with crushed vehicles and a vast area where “almost every house” has reported at least some damage, the National Guard has been called in to assist local emergency responders and help with the clean-up.

Tim Nelson searches for survivors in Pilger, Nebraska after the tornadoes hit

What was left of Pilger was evacuated last night, and state police closed roads into town to all but emergency vehicles. More than a dozen residents were given shelter at a high school in the nearby town of Wisner.

Officials will not know the full scale of the intensity of the storms until after crews have been able to examine the area, said Barbara Mayes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Valley.

But Ms Mayes said the dual tornadoes represented an exceptional weather event because both appeared to have roughly the same strength. In most cases, she said, one tornado tends to be larger and more powerful than the other, and the bigger cyclone grows stronger as the smaller one weakens.

“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.”