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By Katie Knapp Schubert
OMAHA, Neb., June 16 (Reuters) - A swarm of tornadoes, some appearing two at a time, struck several farming communities in northeastern Nebraska on Monday, killing at least one person and injuring 16 in one tiny town obliterated by a direct hit, officials said.
The tornadoes, part of a super-cell thunderstorm system, appeared to be class EF-2 or EF-3 twisters, meaning they packed cyclonic winds of up to 165 miles per hour (265 kph), said Rich Thompson, the lead forecaster for the National Storm Prediction Center.
The village of Pilger, a community several blocks wide and home to roughly 350 residents, appeared to bear the brunt of the storms and the heaviest concentration of casualties after one twister struck there, local authorities said.
"Pilger is gone," said Sanford Goshorn, director of emergency management for Stanton County. "The tornado cut right through the center of town." Electricity, water and sewage service to the town were completely knocked out, he said.
The Pilger storm left one person dead and at least 16 others injured, Stanton County Sheriff Michael Unger told Reuters. He said those hurt were taken to a hospital in nearby Norfolk, Nebraska. He did not know the nature or severity of their injuries.
Thompson said the Storm Prediction Center tracked at least four different twisters in northeastern Nebraska, with one or two sightings of a pair of tornadoes touching down simultaneously.
"Two powerful tornadoes on the ground at the same time is quite rare," said Barbara Mayes, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Omaha, Nebraska.
Additional tornadoes or funnel clouds were detected in central Nebraska, behind the first wave of storms that appeared to dissipate as they moved eastward, before crossing the Missouri River into Iowa, weather officials said.
Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman declared a state of emergency for the stricken region.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency received reports of injuries and damage throughout Stanton, Cuming and Wayne counties in the northeastern corner of the state, spokeswoman Jodie Fawl said.
"We have had reports of people trapped in several of the communities," she said, adding that roads were closed to all but emergency vehicles near Pilger, which appeared to have sustained the greatest damage.
Buildings across a several-block area were leveled, with debris strewn across the streets and into a field east of town.
In addition to 16 patients from Pilger who were taken to a hospital in Norfolk, the Providence Medical Center in Wayne reported receiving three patients from the Pilger storm.
The Omaha World Herald reported nine others injured treated at three other area hospitals.
A storm chaser video on the Weather Channel showed two large tornadoes in the same video frame tearing across primarily farmland near Stanton. (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago and David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Peter Cooney, Jim Loney and Ken Wills)