Hundreds of people are displaced after their homes were damaged or destroyed during last week's tornadoes. An in-depth review of the storm that impacted eastern North Carolina and the efforts underway to help residents recover.
Eastern North Carolina has had its fair share of severe weather lately. On Tuesday, at least four tornados were confirmed to have touched down in eastern North Carolina, in Craven, Cumberland, Edgecombe, and Jones counties. The National Weather Service reported that a roof was blown off a home in Edgecombe County, minor structural damage, downed trees, and no major injuries.
While the storms this week were relatively minor, severe weather last Friday caused widespread damage and lead to the death of an 11 month old boy in Chowan County, part of a storm system with six confirmed tornadoes in eastern North Carolina.
Around 1:15 Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service office in Newport issued a tornado watch for all of eastern North Carolina. Shortly after, the first tornado warning was issued for the Greene County area. An EF-0 tornado, with wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph, touched down near Shine, about five miles west of Snow Hill. A second tornado formed near Walstonburg, six miles north of Snow Hill as a more powerful EF1, with maximum wind speeds of 110 mph. Greene County Emergency Management Specialist Trey Cash.
“We had 17 minor structure damage, now when I say that, I mean barns, houses, carports, things of that nature. 17 structures were mildly damaged. We had two major damage with one being a tree falling on a house, and an actual Sanderson Farms chicken house, the top flew off and collapsed the building.”
By 6pm Friday evening, the tornado warning expired. But an hour later, as the main line of the storm system moved west to east, tornadoes touched down in Pitt and Beaufort Counties. At 7:22 pm, an EF-2 tornado touched down in the community of Chicod. Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Newport Lara Pagano said wind speeds hit at least 115 miles per hour.
“that tornado was about 75 yards wide, and the path length was about a mile long. And it seemed like the tornado, it picked up, so you actually had a brief period of time where the tornado wasn’t on the ground.”
Residents in Pitt County also sustained major damages. Director of Emergency Management Noel Lee says the EF-2 tornado touched down near Black Jack-Simpson Road around 7:15 pm, destroying three homes and damaging a farming operation in Pitt County.
“One home was totally rolled over and totally destroyed, one home was blown off its foundation and the other mobile home had the roof taken off. And then one farming operation was hit hard, mainly his equipment where it was stored, shelters, grain bin, that kind of damage.”
Lee says no injuries were reported because residents either evacuated or were not home during the tornado. After impacting Pitt County, the tornado left the ground and then touched down again at 7:35 in Beaufort County. The now EF-3 tornado, about 350 yards wide with maximum wind speeds of 150 miles per hour, devastated the Whichards Beach community in Chocowinity.
“I’ve been told by some people that have lived for 90 years that they cannot remember an EF-3 tornado coming through Beaufort County.”
John Pack is the Emergency Services Coordinator for Beaufort County. He says the tornado crossed the Pamlico River and touched down again on the other side as an EF-2.
“It proceeded in a northeasterly direction across River Road, and along a road called Asberry Road. And then it went to the intersection of NC-32 and US 264, still on the ground and proceeded parallel to NC-32 for approximately 2 miles and then it lifted back up and stayed up thank goodness.”
The entire path of the tornado spanned 21 miles as it travelled through Pitt and Beaufort Counties. Over all, the storm caused 16 injuries and damaged hundreds of homes, mostly in Beaufort County.
“We’ve got 60 homes that have major damage which means the house had more than 50 percent of its structure severely damaged and there are 15 to 20 that are completely destroyed, only foundations only remain. And then you have another 130 homes that have sustained moderate to minor damage.”
Around 8:30pm, the severe weather began to weaken and that’s when disaster relief organizations like the American Red Cross sprang into action. A Red Cross shelter opened in Beaufort County, where 18 residents stayed overnight Friday at Snowd Branch Church of God. Director of Communications for the Eastern North Carolina region of the American Red Cross Autumn Mihm says over 160 disaster workers were mobilized to eastern North Carolina to assist in tornado cleanup and recovery.
“They’re doing things from handing out supplies, food, meeting individually with the families that are affected, to providing hot meals, mental health workers are taking care of the emotional health of as you know this pretty devastating and you may not really feel the effects of what happened until a few days later and you need someone to talk to and help you through that.”
By Tuesday, Red Cross volunteers’ shifted their priority from providing disaster recovery to helping tornado victims devise a disaster recovery plan.
“And we’ve got additional, what we call case workers, that come in and they are very experienced with working with victims of disaster and sitting down with the families and really talking through comprehensively what their needs are going to be going forward and how we can help them.”
The American Red Cross also partners with other local, state and national organizations to offer disaster relief.
“We work pretty closely with the Southern Baptists. They come in with big trucks with machinery and they’re the ones that can do the hands on of cutting trees, picking up debris. So that’s one of the resources we tell people about when we’re meeting them out in the field, and Salvation Army, they can also partner with us, and they have so far in this operation to help with feeding as well.”
On Monday, Governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for Beaufort, Chowan, Pasquotank, and Perquimans counties, the first step in seeking federal funds to help defray the cost of providing emergency services, cleaning up debris, and repairing public infrastructure. As residents in eastern North Carolina start to rebuild, they face a long road to a sense of normalcy. Beaufort County Emergency Coordinator John Pack estimates it will take at least a year and a half.
“The reality is when you have this many structures impacted, it takes a long time. We just are now finishing the rebuild on structures from Hurricane Irene, which was three years ago.”
Knowing how to keep your household safe during weather emergencies is critical because once a warning is issued in your area, you may have very little time to react. Seek shelter in the lowest level of your home, in a center room, or in a closet away from windows. If you’re in a bathroom, you can lie in a bathtub. Cover your body with a blanket or quilt to protect against flying debris such as broken glass. If you are caught outside during a tornado, lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area and cover your head and neck. For more information on how to prepare for severe weather and to see pictures of damage from the recent storms, visit our website publicradioeast.org.
FOR SEVERE WEATHER TIPS: http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family