Diocesan News

Tornados of 2014 damage property, not spirit

Nebraska Knights of Columbus reflect on ‘brother helping brother’

By S.L. Hansen

(SNR) On May 11, 2014 – Mother’s Day – 17 different tornados ripped through Nebraska, leaving destruction and despair in their wake. Twelve months later, there are more signs of rebuilding, renewal and generosity than damage.

The town of Beaver Crossing was the hardest hit that day. The churning 150-mph winds of the EF3 tornado destroyed 16 homes, wreaked major damage on 22 more, and left its destructive mark on another 227 houses.

Trees that weren’t snapped in half were splintered or stripped of their foliage. Vehicles were flipped, crushed or sucked up into the vortex, some never to be seen again.

Thousands of volunteers showed up in Beaver Crossing over the ensuing weeks to help with cleanup. Streets were painstakingly cleared so that electrical workers could rewire the town, a process that took more than a week. Business owners and homeowners were grateful for the many hands that helped.

Among them were members of various Knights of Columbus councils in the area. Rich Lowery, the Knights’ state deputy said, “State Disaster Coordinator PSD Jim Haiar contacted the officers and set the wheels in motion to help those affected.”

A little more than a month later, on June 16, Haiar would repeat the process to help the people of Pilger, where twin tornadoes plowed through the business district, reducing many businesses, the fire station and approximately 50 homes to rubble.

In addition to individual Knights and their families helping with cleanup, the Knights cooked a hot meal of hamburgers, hot dogs, teriyaki chicken and smoked pork to serve to more than 300 volunteers in the Pilger area. Each family affected by the tornado in Pilger and nearby Wisner was also given $50 – a small gift, but enough to take care of a few personal needs.

“The expressions of the people as they were handed this small gift are memories that none of us will ever forget,” Lowery said.

Not long afterward, Haiar returned to Beaver Crossing to join Father Maurice Current, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, in delivering $50 to each of the families there who suffered damage or loss.

“In total, we donated over $30,000 in cash and food to the Pilger and almost $9,000 to the Beaver Crossing area,” Lowery recounted.

Coming up on a year after that terrible storm, a drive through Beaver Crossing shows how much the village has recovered. A Queen Ann-style home along the main road into Beaver Crossing remains boarded up, but most of the other homes in town bear few marks of last year’s tornado.

Outside of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a sapling grows valiantly a few feet away from the stump of a tree that had to be removed. The church itself has been treated to new windows, a new roof and new porch supports, all of which were damaged when the roof of a modular home across the street crashed into it during the storm.

That modular home was a total loss. After salvaging what belongings they could retrieve, the family who emerged from the wreckage moved away permanently. The only signs that a house was ever in that vacant lot are the sidewalk leading up to the front door and a few purple tulips pushing up between the weeds. 

The old brick school building, once destined to become trendy apartments and shops, was badly damaged and underinsured, so it was razed. A shop left leaning up against the bookstore was removed as well.  Other businesses, like the hardware store, boast new facades or roofs.

The debris pile that had easily measured 30 feet high, 60 feet wide and 100 feet long a year ago has now been reduced to a few chunks of muddied concrete.

Spring is here again in Nebraska, with its threat of more cyclones and the life-changing destruction they can cause. But should Nebraskans once again suffer from tornado damage, the Knights of Columbus will be ready to help.

“This is truly what is meant by brother helping brother,” Lowery said.

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