(“We’re on a mission from God”.)
That’s a famous line from the movie Blues Brothers. This seemed just about a important as getting the back taxes paid in time to save the orphanage from being closed. Except this wasn’t a mission from God and this wasn’t a comedy. I was sent by Storm Assist, a collaborative effort by storm chasers to provide aid to communities directly impacted by damaging weather events.
I was given the real honor of delivering on behalf of Storm Assist (http://stormassist.org), funds for relief and recovery efforts currently underway in this close knit community we know as Pilger, Nebraska. after twin EF4 tornadoes terrorized this small farming town. Residents simply call it home and when I was on my way to meet them, I had no idea what to expect.
I had a pretty somber drive not knowing what I would see or feel and with the backdrop of cloud cover and appearing as though it was going to rain didn’t help the mood either. My heart began to sink low as I drew closer to town and when I finally arrived, my heart made its final decent deep into the pit of my stomach and my jaw literally fell in my lap. The first thing I saw were the mountains of debris of what obviously were homes and then just over my other shoulder were the empty spaces where they use to be.
I made the left turn into town and you could see the total devastation to what was the hub of this town, the co-op. It provided grain storage, dry fertilizer and other chemicals, bulk deliveries of fuel, propane and oil. There was also a 24hr convenience store that provided gasoline and other essential items. It becomes kind of a gathering place in rural towns. It’s where you go for the local news and say hi.
I decided to park the car and walk around the town so I could really understand what I was seeing. There were some buildings but most were destroyed or otherwise completely gone. It was really difficult to visualize the town.
There are signs of the recovery currently underway as linemen and women are repairing the electrical lines. Utility workers were hard at work trying to restore those very crucial utilities many of us take for granted. For the homes that were left standing , had porta potties placed out on the edge of their lawns. I could hear one of the guys a few streets over shout in excitement as 1 more street had it’s water service restored. Orphan grain recovery teams are gathering whats left of Pilger’s life blood.
There was one thing that I expected to see, I don’t know why but I did, was the look of pity and despair. Not by everyone, just anyone. I saw none of that. What I did see aside from the workers were a few residents that still had homes, leave and head over to the volunteer area for an assignment. So I went too. I saw vehicles from SD, IA, MO and a good number of volunteers pitching in to lend a helping hand. Another older gentleman was tending what was left of his garden as a tarp flapped in the breeze while covering his damaged home going about his day. He joked a little and aside from the appearance of being in a war zone, life seemed pretty OK at that moment.
I stopped and took a small moment of silence to remember little Calista Dixion. We’ve all most likely seen the photograph of this little angel on the stretcher whom lost her life on that tragic day. That photo is a reason so many of us feel deeply connected to her and this town. But she surely lives on in the hearts of all here in Pilger.
This flag is a recognizable symbol of strength and it’s sight provides comfort to so many in America in times of need. It was on was proudly on display in Pilger and gave me the sense that it represented their strength and resolve to pull through this very dark time. Thanks to the community and all of the people that support Storm Assist this town will rebuild. There is no doubt in my mind about that.
You can read details about funds provided to Pilger by going to http://stormassist.org
How can you help repair the normal to those affected by devastating weather like Pilger?
Please visit http://stormassist.org and consider making a donation. It really does make a difference.