A powerful storm with tornadoes has ripped through northeast Nebraska, destroying more than half of the tiny town of Pilger, killing a five-year-old child and injuring at least 19 people.
The National Weather Service said dual twisters touched down within roughly a 1.6 kilometres of each other.
Emergency crews and residents spent the evening sorting through demolished homes and businesses in the community of about 350, roughly 160 kilometres northwest of Omaha.
“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.”
Victims were taken to three regional hospitals, and at least one had died from unspecified injuries, hospital officials said.
Jodi Richey, a spokeswoman for Faith Regional Health Services in nearby Norfolk, said one person died and 16 others were being treated at the hospital.
Hospital officials initially described those patients as being in critical condition, but said later that some had been released after treatment.
The Stanton County Sheriff’s Office confirmed late on Monday that the person killed was a five-year-old child. It didn’t specify the child’s gender.
One was transferred to a trauma centre in Omaha, while others required surgery, said Dr Doug Dilly, who was in the emergency room when patients arrived.
Providence Medical Centre in nearby Wayne treated three tornado patients, including two who had lacerations, said hospital spokeswoman Sandy Bartling.
Two were released Monday evening, and the third patient was in stable condition, she said.
Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger estimated that 50 to 75 per cent of Pilger was heavily damaged or destroyed in the storm.
The local school is likely beyond repair, he said.
“It’s total devastation,” Unger said.
Authorities said the first tornado touched down around 3:45 pm and downed several power lines before it levelled a farmhouse. Four people were trapped inside.
While local crews removed them from the debris, a second tornado was spotted southwest of Pilger, according to the Stanton County Sheriff’s Office.
Shortly afterward, the town suffered a “direct hit” that levelled several buildings, including the Fire Department building, the sheriff’s office said.
Several people near Main Street in Pilger suffered critical injuries, including the child who later died.
Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard was preparing to assist local emergency responders and help with the clean-up.
Pilger was evacuated for the night, and the Nebraska State Patrol closed all roads into town.