Pilger Sand & Gravel

A CONCRETE storm shelter installed four years ago is credited with saving the lives of workers at Pilger Sand & Gravel, about two miles south of Pilger.

PILGER — The Pilger Sand & Gravel plant south of Pilger is still standing despite getting hit by a tornado.

Just about everything else — including buildings, equipment and conveyors — has been destroyed.

It is expected to be weeks — possibly longer — before it can be operational again.

Marilyn Willers, who owned the gravel pit with her husband, Ron, before selling it to their son, Scott, and his wife, Sara, said the issue of how quickly the business can be operating again depends on how functional the plant is.

Marilyn and Ron Willers are now retired and live in Norfolk.

While the plant is still standing, workers have spent recent days cleaning up the property and testing it to determine how functional it will be, Willers said.

Several other area pits have offered to loan equipment, including conveyors and other necessary equipment. But the other equipment won’t do any good unless the plant can be salvaged for operations, she said.

The timing of a twister hitting Pilger Sand & Gravel comes at a tough time for area counties and the Nebraska Department of Roads. Many counties have been scrambling in recent years to find gravel suppliers because of shortages.

The Pilger business, for example, was supplying the gravel for a Nebraska Department of Roads project on Highway 275.

Willers said there is no doubt the plant will operate again, but when exactly that will be is the big unknown.

The family and plant employees said they are thankful nobody was hurt.

About four years ago, the Willers installed a six-foot by eight-foot concrete building they referred to as a storm shelter. It was credited Monday with saving lives.

Willers said before the tornadoes hit, the Willers and employees put eight vehicles in a two-story shop because they feared hail. They didn’t hear the tornado siren because of their location about two miles south of Pilger. But eight people crammed into the shelter anyway.

Soon they realized a tornado was outside, believing that a propane tank, car and possibly loader all hit the storm shelter as it hit. The shelter withstood the blows and remained intact.

But it had been moved by the wind about 10 feet from its original location, Willers said.

When the employees got out of the shelter — they saw the destruction. It included almost all the buildings being leveled, vehicles destroyed, glass broken and other damage to equipment and trees.

“We are just so thankful nobody got hurt,” Willers said. “Stuff was scattered all over.”

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