The tiny northeast Nebraska town of Pilger was digging out from tragedy Tuesday, a day after at least two people were killed and dozens more were injured when tornadoes roared through parts of the state.
All the residents of Pilger — the town's website claims a population of 378 — evacuated their homes, many leaving for shelters in nearby towns.
"More than half of the town is gone — absolutely gone," Stanton County Commissioner Jerry Weatherholt said. "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."
"We are confirming several EF-4 damage points in Pilger," the National Weather Service in Omaha tweeted Tuesday afternoon. "Details of exact wind speed estimates will be provided once the survey is complete."
EF-4 tornadoes have wind speeds estimated at 166-200 mph.
On Tuesday, more severe storms are forecast from the northern Plains to the Great Lakes, an area of tens of millions of people. Cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and New York City could see severe weather Tuesday, but the threat level is not as high as it was Monday.
Some of the storms can produce a brief tornado over the northern tier states but not the ferocity of the storm that hit near Pilger, according to AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
TWIN TWISTERS: Tweets of Monday's Nebraska tornadoes
John Sandahl told the Norfolk (Neb.) Daily News he had just returned to his home not far from Pilger on Monday afternoon when the wind picked up and the power went out.
"I heard just a big roar," he said. "There was a lot of cracking and breaking, and then my ears started to pop."
Less than a minute later his home and Sandahl Farms were destroyed, he told the Daily News.
"I had to crawl out a basement window," he said. "I have insurance. We'll find out how good it is. Everything here is gone."
One fatality from Pilger was brought into Faith Regional Medical Center in Norfolk, Neb., and at least 15 people were brought in with critical injuries, said hospital spokesman Jacque Genovese.
Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger said a 5-year-old girl died of injuries Monday. Her name was not released. Unger also said Tuesday that a motorist died Monday in a single-vehicle accident on a county road four to five miles east of Pilger. He said the accident is considered storm-related.
On Tuesday, emergency crews and residents were sifting through demolished homes and businesses in the town about 80 miles northwest of Omaha. Pilger describes itself as "the perfect bedroom community" — 20 miles from the bigger towns of Norfolk and Wayne.
Pilger's motto: "The little town too tough to die."
The sheriff estimated that up to 75% of Pilger was heavily damaged or destroyed in the storm. The local school is likely beyond repair, Unger said.
"It's total devastation," he said.
Unger said only Pilger residents will be allowed in town Tuesday until 5 p.m., when volunteers will be helping with the arduous cleanup task.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman declared a state of emergency, and the Defense Department said the National Guard will help with damage assessment and cleanup.
Photos and videos from other storm chasers in the region showed at least two tornadoes spinning across farmland in eastern Nebraska. Across the region, there were 30 reports of tornadoes Monday, the Storm Prediction Center reported.
Pilger resident Trey Wisniewski, said first his weather radio alerted him, then the power went out and the tornado sirens started to sound. The sky went black and he and his wife took their pets into the basement.
"My wife was holding our animals and I was holding on to my wife. We could feel the suction try to pull is out of there," said Wisniewski, 43. "It wasn't raining. It was raining debris."
Contributing: Associated Press