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June storms caused $13M in public property damage; Custer County volunteers make the trip

July 13, 2014

Photo by Carson Vaughan

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Tornadoes and thunderstorms that pummeled Nebraska last month caused an estimated $13.2 million in damage to roads, bridges, utilities and other public property, a state emergency spokeswoman said Thursday.

State officials will use the preliminary estimates when applying for federal assistance to cover the damage in 12 counties, said Jodie Fawl, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

Stanton County in northeast Nebraska was the hardest-hit, with $4.23 million in public property damage. The Stanton County town of Pilger, devastated by a tornado, accounted for $2.6 million of that damage.

The state's public damage estimate doesn't count private property, so the total cost is likely far greater. NEMA spokeswoman Jodie Fawl said officials are still tallying that number. Gov. Dave Heineman is expected to submit the estimates to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's regional office in Kansas City, which will then forward them to the president for consideration.

"We've had a lot of storms this year, and there's potential for more," Fawl said.

The counties with damage were Cedar, Cuming, Dakota, Dixon, Franklin, Furnas, Harlan, Kearney, Phelps, Stanton, Thurston and Wayne. The damage estimates include the cost of debris removal, emergency protective services, and damage to roads and bridges, public buildings, utilities, parks and recreational facilities. Utilities accounted for the largest cost, at $9.2 million.

Between 75 and 80 percent of Pilger was damaged by the June 16 tornado, one of four twisters in the storm front that swept across northeast Nebraska that day. The Pilger tornado 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 man who was driving a few miles east of town in Cuming County. Nearly two dozen were injured. 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. Nebraska can also submit damages for uninsured private property, she said, but historically, the federal government has been more willing to offer payment for damaged public property.

The cleanup effort has relied heavily on volunteers who poured into the area from Nebraska and neighboring states.

Volunteers from Custer County included a youth group from Callaway organized by Darin and Sheila Ellis, members of a Broken Bow volleyball team led by Skylar Rohde and Jessica Gibbons.

Custer County Law Enforcement and Custer County Emergency Management organized the trip.

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