- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Residents were cleaning up debris and assessing damage Monday after severe thunderstorms and tornadoes swept through eastern Nebraska over the weekend, ripping roofs off homes and toppling buildings but causing no major injuries.

Sunday’s hail, heavy rain and tornadoes caused damage across much of the region, roughly along a line from the Kansas border through Hastings and Omaha. The towns of Sutton, Cordova and Beaver Crossing were especially hard-hit, with streets scattered with tree limbs and building debris and a number of homes severely damaged.

“Thank God we didn’t have anybody seriously hurt,” Sutton Fire Chief Chris Moore said. “It was a heck of a mess.”

Most of Sutton’s downtown buildings, including the city hall, sustained damage, including several holes that debris punched in several, but they were all still standing. Moore said structural experts were evaluating the buildings Monday to make sure they were safe to enter.

At least three Sutton homes lost their roofs and several others were damaged. Outside of town, several grain bins, farm buildings and center-pivot irrigation systems were damaged by the strong winds.

Gov. Dave Heineman visited Sutton and several other communities Monday to assess the storm damage. Heineman said he expected to issue a state disaster declaration for the damaged areas later in the day.

“Nebraska emergency management officials are actively coordinating needs assessments with local emergency workers,” Heineman said. “Even when disaster strikes, I see friends and neighbors caring for and helping each other. This is Nebraska at its best.”

The extent of the damage across Nebraska should become clearer once officials are able to visit damaged areas, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Jodie Fawl said.

Heineman said the damage was extensive in Cordova and Beaver Crossing, where the storms ripped the roofs off a couple homes and tore a wall off of another.

Beaver Crossing resident Leta Keeney said she and her husband were amazed by the damage when they emerged from their basement shelter Sunday. Trees had been knocked over throughout the neighborhood, Vern Keeney’s work truck was damaged and the couple’s motor home in the backyard was totaled.

“I had no idea it would be like this because we didn’t hear much noise,” Leta Keeney said Monday.

Tree limbs and power lines were down throughout the town of about 400, and nearly every home sustained some damage.

Temporary shelters also have been set up in several hard-hit communities, and election officials moved two polling places out of Cordova and Beaver Crossing to nearby towns for Tuesday’s primary election.

Utility officials estimate that Sutton, Beaver Crossing and Cordova will all be without power for at least two days because of extensive power line damage.

Thousands of people across eastern Nebraska lost power. Omaha Public Power District said about 1,400 of its customers in southeast Nebraska remained without power around 5 p.m. Monday, down from a peak of 26,000 on Sunday.

The storms also dumped significant amounts of rain and large hail. Parts of York County got 5 inches or more of rain Sunday, while Lincoln Airport received nearly an inch and a half of rain in an hour, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologist Mike Moritz said Omaha’s Florence neighborhood also got an inch in an hour.

The weather service reported hail as large as 2-inches in diameter east and southeast of Hastings.

The strongest part of the storms missed Lincoln, though the capital city still experienced some wind damage. Several Omaha neighborhoods were damaged Sunday evening as the storm was generating winds of more than 70 mph.

Numerous tornadoes were reported across at least six counties. NEMA officials said trained spotters identified 12 to 15 likely tornadoes. The National Weather Service was following up on the reports, but their assessment work couldn’t be completed Monday so crews will go back out on Tuesday.

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