Nebraska residents dig out from October tornado strikes

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Shari Heidtbrink inspects the damage to her barn outside of Bennett, Neb., after Thursday night’s severe weather.

Story and photos by Haley Whisennand, NewsNetNebraska As torrential rain and winds whipped through Bennett, Neb., Shari Heidtbrink hoped that all of her horses were alive. The metal barn just next to her house could turn to razor-sharp shrapnel in 120 mph gusts.
Severe thunderstorms, high winds and tornadoes wreaked havoc on southeastern Nebraska late Thursday night, causing severe damage to buildings and property in the area. Downed power lines forced Lancaster County officials to close parts of Highway 2 late at night.

The Associated Press released a statement on the series of storms that hit the state Thursday. It read:

National Weather Service meteorologist Barbara Mayes said Thursday’s tornado was first spotted just after 10 p.m., two miles east of Hickman in Lancaster County. The tornado was part of a supercell storm system. It was rated an EF2, with winds of 111 to 135 mph. Tornadoes in Nebraska occur most frequently in June, but they have hit the state in October before. National Weather Service records show that 18 tornadoes were confirmed in Nebraska in October 2000, 11 in October 2001 and 10 in October 1998.

National Weather Service meteorologist Cathy Zapatocny said heavy rain drenched a wide swath of eastern Nebraska, including a 24-hour total of 2.88 inches at Eppley Airfield in Omaha and 3.3 inches about 2 miles east of Roca in Lancaster County. Baseball-size hail was reported north of Wilber in Saline County, she said.”

Potentially fatal destruction The worst of the devastation occurred just south of Bennett, about 15 miles southeast of Lincoln, Neb. High winds destroyed two homes in the area, as well as sheds, barns, pasture fences and other property.

Heidtbrink, a farm real estate saleswoman and graduate student at UNL, lost her three-stall barn in the storm. Though most of the pieces of the barn didn’t go far, it still left the building in shambles. She knew the structure was gone when the storm hit at about 11 p.m., but nothing could prepare her for the next day. “You know that it’s destroyed,” she said, “but when you come out the next morning and see it in the daylight, it’s horrible.”

Friends and family joined Heidtbrink early Friday to begin the demolition process on the barn. The group worked to tear off the remaining metal paneling on the outside before pulling out sledgehammers and chainsaws to tear down the wooden skeleton.

Heidtbrink hoped to salvage as much of the wood as she could to reuse for the construction of the new barn. “It’s tough to see this damage,” she said, “but I have to be thankful that my home wasn’t damaged. I still have a roof over my head. I can go take a shower or curl up in my bed. Some people aren’t as fortunate.”

Heidtbrink boarded a former national champion in the middle stall of the barn. The 31-year-old horse got a 2″x4″ board through its shoulder, as well as cuts across his face and neck. He was transported to a veterinary clinic Friday morning, but no one knew if the horse would make it through his injuries. “He wasn’t doing so well to begin with,” Heidtbrink said. “This certainly didn’t help him.”

The Bennett resident’s horses were out at pasture that night and survived the storm. The pasture’s fences were torn down by the high winds, forcing Heidtbrink and her family to search for the horses during the storm late Thursday night. “It was something no one would want to go through,” Heidtbrink said. “We felt like you were going to get blown off your feet while we were getting soaked down to our skin.”

Thursday marked the second time the graduate student had lost her barn due to severe weather in southeastern Nebraska. The property’s original, old-style barn disappeared in a tornado in 2004.

The storms continue

The National Weather Service believes it was an F3 tornado that struck Wayne, Neb., Friday night. Photo: Nebraska State Patrol

Photo: Nebraska Highway Patrol

Wayne, Neb., continued to clean-up Sunday after an EF4 tornado tore along the east side of town Friday around 6 p.m.  According to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, 15 people were injured, one critically.   At least 10 homes and a couple dozen businesses were damaged in the tornado.

Wayne Mayor Ken Chamberlin said damage to the community was in the millions of dollars.“The rebuilding process will be lengthy,” Chamberlin said. “It’s really heart wrenching to see all the damage, but I have all confidence in this community. We have had a ton of volunteers. It’s been phenomenal.”
National Weather Service
On Sunday, The National Weather Service office in Omaha completed its preliminary damage survey of the storm that spawned tornados Friday night. The tornado that hit Wayne, one of several tornadoes that were produced from the same low pressure system, had an estimated peak wind speed of 170 mph, categorizing it as a EF4 tornado.
According to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, the path of destruction begins eight miles southwest of Wayne and extends northeast for approximately 19 miles. At times, the path of destruction is more than a mile wide. Several farmsteads and outbuildings were damaged or destroyed. The most significant damage occurred in the industrial park area on the east side of Wayne, where numerous metal buildings were damaged. More damage occurred at the Wayne Municipal Airport.
“Two hangers were flattened,” said Brian Smith, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Some private aircraft were tumbled and ripped up.”
The tornado, which was estimated to have lasted nearly 40 minutes, also did significant damage to trees and crops.
 

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