Last Updated Jun 16, 2014 10:30 PM EDT
NORFOLK, Neb. - At least one person was killed and 16 others were in critical condition on Monday after massive tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska, destroying more than half of the town of Pilger, hospital and emergency officials said.
The National Weather Service said at least two twisters touched down within roughly a mile of each other. Emergency crews and residents spent the evening sorting through demolished homes and businesses in the town of about 350, roughly 100 miles northwest of Omaha.
"More than half of the town is gone - absolutely gone," Stanton County Commissioner Jerry Weatherholt said. "The co-op is gone, the grains bins are gone, and it looks like almost every house in town has some damage. It's a complete mess."
Victims were taken to three regional hospitals, and at least one had died from unspecified injuries, hospital officials said.
Emergency crews were working in the towns of Pilger, Wisner and Stanton, searching for people who could be trapped under debris, CBS affiliate KMTV in Omaha reported.
"We are still in a response mode in these communities," Earl Imler, operations officer for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, told the station. "We are collecting damage reports from local officials on the ground."
More than 300 cattle at a farm just north of Pilger were killed, KMTV reported. The owners of Herman Dinklage Inc. said the storm also destroyed their barn, equipment and house. They were in the process of moving the hundreds of surviving cattle to a safe place where they can have food and shelter.
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heinman declared a state of emergency, allowing state resources to help with the recovery effort.
Faith Regional Health Services in nearby Norfolk was treating 16 patients with critical injuries, and one person had died, said hospital spokeswoman Jodi Richey.
Providence Medical Center in nearby Wayne treated three tornado patients, including two who had lacerations, said hospital spokeswoman Sandy Bartling. Two were released Monday evening, and the third patient was in stable condition, she said.