Immediately after the tornadoes struck Monday afternoon, emergency workers began going door to door, looking for the injured.
"It's 10 times worse than Wayne," Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger told rescue crews, referring to a tornado that hit the nearby town of Wayne last October. "Those of you who remember that -- it's 10 times worse, 10 times."
Most of the buildings were destroyed in a six-block-square area that was downtown Pilger. St. John's Lutheran Church was marked by a pile of debris.
At least 15 people were hurt. The Stanton County Sheriff's Office said one of the dead was a 5-year-old child.
Authorities said the first tornado hit a farmhouse with four people sheltering inside, gutting it. The second touched down in the center of town.