Tornadoes, heavy rain and high winds assaulted the Midlands — in particular pounding southeast Nebraska — 17 years ago today, prompting Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns to declare a state of emergency.
Hallam, Nebraska, about 25 miles southwest of Lincoln, was the hardest hit of the Nebraska communities pummeled by the storm. One person died and nearly 40 others were injured in Hallam.
Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said 95 percent of the homes and businesses in Hallam were destroyed or severely damaged. About 270 people lived there before the tornado, though dozens moved away afterward.
In Lancaster, Saline, Gage and Cass Counties, the storm destroyed 158 homes and damaged at least 57 more.
The tornado that hit Hallam was rated at the time as an F4, meaning that the 2.5-mile-wide tornado carried wind speeds estimated between 207 and 260 mph. The storm caused more than $200 million in damage (in 2019 dollars) along a 52-mile-long path of destruction.
At the time, the Hallam tornado was considered the widest tornado on record. In 2013, a tornado that churned through a rural area outside of Oklahoma City took over that distinction, becoming the widest at 2.6 miles.
The Hallam storm's single fatality was 73-year-old Elaine A. Focken, who died inside her home before she could make it to the basement. Her body, covered in debris, was found on the first floor.
Tornado damage was reported as far west as Bruning, along Nebraska Highway 4. The damage included toppled center-pivot irrigation units and flattened grain bins.
The storm produced 19 confirmed twisters. The series of tornadoes may have been the most to hit Nebraska since at least 1950, said Dan McCarthy of the National Storm Prediction Center.