WAYNE, Neb. — Bath towels hung in the trees surrounding the home south of town.
Black sweatpants with “princess” in sparkly lettering lay among shattered appliances and insulation torn from walls.
A chainsaw whirred in the background.
“All the kids' stuff is in here,” said Traci Krusemark, grabbing a piggy bank and a pair of small jean shorts from the debris.
The ranch-style home she shared with her husband, Matt, and their children is gone — demolished by a tornado that slammed into Wayne on Friday evening. The Krusemarks rode out the storm in the basement.
Mayor Ken Chamberlain said the tornado's path was up to two miles wide and traveled 8 to 10 miles as it leveled about 10 businesses and seriously damaged about a dozen others. Ten homes outside town were either destroyed or damaged. Gov. Dave Heineman will tour the area Sunday.
Chamberlain estimated the total damage at several million dollars. “Corn and soybean fields for miles were littered with debris,” he said.
It may take months to clean up.
“It's heartbreaking,” he said, adding: “A lot of people's hard work is destroyed.”
But the mayor, emergency workers and other Wayne residents repeated the same sentiment Saturday: It could have been worse.
The tornado roared through the town's industrial section, on the southeast and east sides, where the worst damage occurred. The twister was rated an EF3 by the National Weather Service, meaning winds from 136 to 165 mph.
Most of Wayne, a town of about 10,000, escaped the brunt of the storm, except for downed branches and trees. The Wayne State College campus was not hit, nor was the business district, which drew customers Saturday morning.
“The whole feeling is that we're very lucky,” said Justin Cunningham, who manages the Max Bar & Grill, a sports bar downtown.
Had the tornado moved a half-mile or so west, it could have taken out homes, the college and Main Street businesses, Cunningham said.
“It's pretty surreal,” he said.
Fifteen people were hurt. Most of the injuries were minor and believed to be caused by flying debris.
One man was taken to a Sioux City, Iowa, hospital with broken bones. He was hit by flying debris as he abandoned his vehicle and jumped into a ditch, Chamberlain said. The man was reported in stable condition Saturday night.
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The cleanup started about 7 a.m. Workers hauled debris to the airport and separated tin and wood there, said Todd Hoeman, a second assistant for the town's Fire Department.
The Wayne airport is home to small private aircraft and crop dusters. Six planes were damaged after the metal hangar they were in was crushed by the powerful winds.
Dana Tompkins pulled debris from his small plane in the hangar. Tompkins also retrieved a torn American flag and headsets from the rubble.
The tornado tossed one red plane into a field north of the airport, about a quarter-mile away. It was destroyed.
Still, there were hopeful signs.
Donated goods rolled into the National Guard Armory, including 10 pallets of water and cases of fruit and chips.
At the headquarters where emergency workers gathered midmorning, tools and supplies arrived from a Home Depot in Sioux City. Federal emergency managers were on the scene.
And a crew of volunteers from Wayne State congregated at a dorm hall, ready to help if needed, said Melissa Morfeld, 18, of Omaha, a member of the college's rugby team.
One of the team's two trailers, full of gear and equipment, was blown into the city's heavily damaged softball complex. The other landed in a cornfield, she said.
Generators were providing electricity to the damaged area. By midday, emergency workers had begun turning properties back to business owners after a damage assessment.
Chamberlain said whether workers should show up Monday at heavily damaged businesses will be left to their employers.
“I'm sure they'll surprise me at how fast they get back to business,” he said.
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Do we need to check the calendar?
Blizzard and tornadoes. On the same days. In October.
That was the weather story for two days in Nebraska last week.
So Saturday was a day of digging out — from snow, tree limbs and debris.
Tornadoes cut a 115-mile swath Friday night through northeast Nebraska and western Iowa. Hardest hit were the Nebraska communities of Wayne and Macy; in Iowa, the storms slammed mainly rural areas in Woodbury, Plymouth, Cherokee and Buena Vista Counties.
That was less than 24 hours after a storm system spawned tornadoes in southeast Nebraska, damaging homes in Bennet, Hickman and Palmyra. Farther west, it was a full winter blast.
Parts of western Nebraska and South Dakota dealt Friday and Saturday with a blizzard that dropped more than a foot of snow in Nebraska and close to 4 feet in Deadwood, S.D.
For more information on the tornado in Wayne, Neb., and how you can contribute to the recovery process, visit the Tornado Recovery: Wayne, Neb., Facebook page.
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