Resources available for residents affected by April 26 tornado


Following April 26's tornado that left hundreds of Washington County residents without homes, there are several ways people can receive assistance locally or federally.

Steve Dethlefs, Washington County Board of Supervisors chairman, said the Emergency Management Committee — Dan Douglas, Scott Vander Schaaf, Mike Robinson, Benny Benedict, Dave Kruger, Dethlefs, Kevin Barnhill and Steve Kruger — has been meeting daily to discuss disaster relief plans.

"It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime event that the county's experienced," Dethlefs said in an interview with the Enterprise May 3. "This is kind of a whole other level. In my lifetime... the last tornado of this magnitude was in 1975.

"The No.1 goal is just to listen so we have a better understanding of where the problems are, where the failures are, so we can, hopefully, get them rectified."

For more disaster relief information, visit the county's website at

Disaster relief center at Skinny Bones

Dethlefs said the disaster relief center move to Skinny Bones was needed to help supply individuals with items they need.

A temporary center was housed at the Lakeland Community Center.

"We are so appreciative of what they provided the county," Dethlefs said. "It's a tight site, and with the traffic that's coming, we wanted to, No. 1, stay in the area, and then... there's room to maneuver."

Benedict, emergency disasters for Wisconsin and upper Michigan, was appointed to help with the tornadoes that hit Nebraska.

"We were requested by the county to come out and do kind of a disaster assistance center," he said. "When a disaster like this hits, nobody knows what they want. We were just trying to field those requests as far as what is needed."

The center is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

"We're supporting, basically, resource needs," Benedict said. "We have a large tent out here that has supplies in it — that's been very popular."

Items from rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows and trashcans are available to residents affected by the tornado. Various donations have been made to the center as well.

Benedict said having the center for victims of the storm has been an imperative need for the county.

"It's a one-stop shop," he said. "What we're finding is most people don't want to stop. They have this huge project that they never planned on having, and they don't want to stop and come in. But slowly but surely they're coming in, and the disaster assistance center is also kind of just to register. Come in, check in with us, put your address down, let us know did you have minor damage, major damage, is it destroyed — it kind of helps us get that general information of what the needs are, and their needs change.

"It's been great for the community to have a one-stop shop, kind of come in, check here, this is who I am, this is what I'm doing, here's what I need. They know they can pick it up."

Benedict said he is unsure how long the relief center will be set up.

"In reality, long-term recovery is going to be months and months," he said. "We'll be here as long as we're needed. We're still in that response phase, I think, and we'll probably be in that response phase for about another week, and that's just an estimate. And then we'll be into full-blown recovery. Whatever that looks like in every disaster is so different."

Animal help

The Jeanette Hunt - Blair Animal Shelter and Rosco's Rescue Ranch have opened up their spaces for animals affected by the storm.

Kate Burleson of Rosco's Rescue Ranch said her business partnered with the Salvation Army to pick up truckloads of cat and dog food, cat litter, treats, flea medicine, kennels, toys and more.

"We picked it up and brought it to the rescue, and I have it stored for people to come and get things as they need them," she said. "I have had people reach out to be about rehoming."

From cats to chickens, Burleson said requests have been made to house animals in the meantime as their owners' homes are restored.

"I'm kind of heading up the assistance for the animals where the tornado is concerned for the Salvation Army," she said. "I reach out to other rescues (such as the Blair shelter). Anything I get that they need, I'm forwarding along to them. They've already taken on a kitty or two for me. We're just all kind of networking together to try and help everybody out the best we can."

Burleson said she hopes to help out in any way she can amid the clean-up process.

"By the grace of God it kind of went over the top of us a little bit," she said, noting her place had some tree damage following the storm. "We were fortunate enough to have volunteers come out the day after the tornado and get the trees out of the pens and fences put back up. So, in comparison to what a lot of other people have dealt with, we were lucky. I feel like, 'Hey, God protected us and now we need to turn around and pay it forward.'"

At the Blair shelter, manager Rachel Preissler said a few cats have come in from the storm.

"They are warming up to us, doing well, eating and drinking," she said, noting some of the cats had various medical issues when they came in. "They were pretty rough, they were scared, very gunky in the nose, eyes — everything. They stayed for about 24 to 36 hours with the doctors for care and such. One of the cats had a fractured pelvis and is pregnant."

Preissler said one cat had to have his leg amputated following the storm.
Despite the devastation, Preissler said many donations have flooded in to support the shelter and those who may need items following the tornado.

"It's been awesome," she said. "One of the biggest things I want the community to know is we have food, we have supplies, we have all of that. If they need something, come to us."

Food bowls, water bowls, litter boxes and other items are available at the shelter.

"A lot of people are reaching out to help any way they can," she said.

A few boarding dogs have been staying at the shelter as their owners' homes have been destroyed, and the number of stray dogs has increased since the storm.

"They were all reunited right away," Preissler added.

A few surrenders have also occurred since the storm, too.

Preissler said those who had tornado damage can board their animals free of charge.

"We'll figure that out in the long-run," she said. "With as much as the community has helped us, we can help these people out by not charging for boarding. If they have major medical cases, bring them to me — we'll figure it out, we'll take them into the vet, we'll go from there."

Shelter for volunteers

In order to house disaster relief volunteers from Team Rubicon and All Hands and Hearts, Camp Fontanelle opened its doors at the Olson Retreat Center.

The teams are staying at the camp as they are needed. Breakfast and dinner are being served for the veteran-led Team Rubicon team, and All Hands and Hearts are preparing their own meals, said Jane Van Horn, assistant director of hospitality for the camp. In total, there are 39 volunteers staying at the camp.

"It was a real fast turnaround," she said. "Then, we just started working. It's very apparent that they're very efficient in what they do. It really came down to what we can do as a camp."

In addition to serving the volunteers, Van Horn said the camp is also going to hold a free summer camp for families affected by the tornadoes.

"We said, 'We can get kids to camp,' because we know that, eventually, the disaster relief teams have to leave — they're not going to be around in six months," she said. "But we're going to be here, and we could offer camp at no charge to these families, because, let's face it, it's very stressful."

Van Horn said she wants Washington County residents to know that the camp is all about community.

"We want to make sure that we can do something that helps the community be better," she said. "When we see that there's a need, if we can help provide that and fill that void, then that's what we want to be able to do."

Families can register for the summer camp offering through Camp Fontanelle's website, and the code is RELIEF24. People interested can contact the camp at 402-478-4296 or

Those who would like to donate to the camp to support this endeavor can send checks to Camp Fontanelle, 9677 County Road 3, Fontanelle, NE 68044, and write "disaster relief" in the line or contact Jane Van Horn at or 402-278-0526 for more information.