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Zoning permit applications indicate rebuilding in Pilger

Zoning permit applications indicate rebuilding in Pilger

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PILGER — After two weeks of tearing down, the focus here now is on rebuilding.

It comes, for example, in the form of a new shingles being nailed onto the roof of a house in the southeast corner of town.

At least, it seems to be the southeast corner of town.

Two weeks after an EF4 tornado tore a path of destruction through this Stanton County village, it’s a bit hard to figure out where you are when you visit the town.

The landmarks — the Farmers Co-op, Midwest Bank and convenience store — are gone, as are more than 50 houses and a plethora of other buildings. In their place are gaping holes, remnants of foundations, piles of twisted metal, splintered wood and other debris.

Most of the buildings left standing sport plywood or plastic coverings over their broken windows. Many also have splintered siding, cracked paint, shattered shingles.

Recent rains deposited puddles in the trenches in the road left by heavy machinery that has moved about the town, tearing down buildings and trees and hauling them away.

But heavy equipment can’t work when its too wet, so the three houses that still need to come down have received a temporary reprieve.

“The debris sites are too muddy,” said Kim Neiman, Pilger’s village clerk. “But we’re still picking up the little stuff (using four-wheelers).

Neiman wasn’t in town the afternoon of June 16 when the storm hit. A trained EMT and firefighter, she and others had heard about the tornado hitting Stanton and took off to offer aid there.

“I looked out the window (of the vehicle) ... and saw the tornado (heading toward Pilger) ... saw a second tornado and then saw the debris fly and we came back to town,” she said.

By then, the storm had done its damage and moved on.

“I couldn’t drive through town because lines were down and trees were everywhere. I took off on foot to my office,” she said.

But it, like so many other buildings, had been virtually destroyed.

“I paced back and forth in front of the fire hall and my office,” she said.

And it was from there, that she helped direct the community’s initial response to the devastation.

Now Neiman works from a small camper set up in the city’s campground adjacent to the swimming pool. A kitchen table holds her computer — which survived the storm — a keyboard and monitor.

Next to the table are plastic bins filled with files and papers topped by boxes of granola bars and other snacks.

The snacks are necessary.

She works 12 to 16 hours a day from her makeshift office, juggling four cell phones in an effort to run the village’s daily business, answer questions from confused volunteers and overwhelmed citizens, take information from fellow village and county employees and deal with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is sending a third team to Pilger to evaluate the situation and determine if it qualifies for federal disaster relief.

“That’s OK,” she said concerning the long hours. “I need to be available for everyone.”

The topic of many citizens’ questions is flood insurance, Neiman said. Because Pilger is in a floodplain, people who want to rebuild will have to comply with the regulations or purchase flood insurance, both of which will significantly impact the price tag, Neiman said.

“Sixty houses were destroyed,” she said. “They will have to build a foot above the base flood elevation.”

While that issue is disconcerting to some, it hasn’t kept others from forging ahead. In fact, a few people have already applied for zoning permits to rebuild garages, she said.

Zoning permits are similar to building permits in other towns, she explained. After the permits are issued, the request goes to the village’s planning commission.

The optimistic attitude displayed by the citizens applying for zoning permits is reflected in a recent decision made by members of the village board.

“We voted to have Pilger Days,” she said. “The street dance will be moved to the ball field ... and the barbecue will be at the shelter house.”

The event is set for Saturday, July 16.

It’s another step in the long process of rebuilding Pilger.

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