- Associated Press - Sunday, June 29, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska officials are still tallying the cost of the tornadoes that destroyed most of the town of Pilger, but it’s expected to climb into the tens of millions.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency will send teams to the northeast Nebraska town this week to assess damage to roads, bridges and public buildings, such as the school and local fire department. Last week, teams walked the area to estimate the cost of private property damage not covered by insurance.

The June 16 tornado damaged 75 percent to 80 percent of the town, with a population of about 350. State emergency officials expect to have damage estimates sometime around July 1, said NEMA spokeswoman Jodie Fawl. The estimates will go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for possible federal aid, which requires presidential approval.

“We’re still in the stage of gathering information,” Fawl said.

Pilger was hit by one of two twisters, which roared for miles through northeast Nebraska. The tornadoes were of roughly equal size, about a mile apart. The northern twister that struck the town was later confirmed as an EF4, which has wind speeds of 166 to 200 mph. Two people were killed in the storm - a 5-year-old girl in Pilger, and a 74-year-old who was driving in Cuming County, a few miles east of town.

Between 45 and 50 homes in Pilger were demolished, and roughly a dozen others were damaged beyond repair in Dixon County. The storm severely damaged a local middle school in Pilger, the fire station, grain bins and most of the south end of Main Street.

Fawl said the federal government typically responds within a month, once the state submits its damage estimates.

The Nebraska National Guard left town early last week, but a spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Heineman said NEMA and five other state agencies are still providing assistance to the area. A regional representative from FEMA’s Kansas City-based regional office was also in town. The Guard had 20 members on state active duty for security and to enforce a town curfew, said 1st Lt. Alex Salmon, a Guard spokesman in Lincoln.

Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger said the cleanup effort has moved faster than expected because of volunteers who poured into the area, including some from Iowa. School districts from as far as Hastings and Papillion also sent students to help, he said.

Unger said the total damage will almost certainly rise into the tens of millions of dollars, although local and state officials aren’t close to having an estimate.

State officials “are still in contact with us daily,” Unger said. “They’ve mostly gone back to Lincoln. We still have their assistance if needed, but we’re running things more on a local level now.”

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