American Red Cross volunteers respond to a tornado early Saturday morning destroying homes in Johnston and Wilson County in North Carolina. The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter immediately following the tornado at the Kenly Free Will Baptist Church. All of the families affected ended up staying with friends or relatives and several were placed into local hotels.
A series of tornadoes touched down near the towns of Meadow and Benson, just east of Route 95 in Johnston County, at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning. The destructive forces of the tornado moved north through Four Oaks, Smithfield, Princeton, and Kenly in Johnston County and Elm City in Wilson County. The majority of damage and destruction was caused in the small towns of Kenly where a woman was killed and Elm City where a boy was killed. Numerous homes and a business were destroyed and many more damaged. The National Weather Service conducted their assessment and review of the damage and determined that an F2 tornado caused the damage.
The local weather station and TV station issued a Doppler indicated Tornado warning, but authorities couldn't immediately confirm that a twister had formed and was actually on the ground.
In each of the cases we heard, families reported hearing the tornado. Some of the people stated that they had heard the roar of the Tornado and it sounded like the familiar freight train coming through. Although they tried to scrambled and find refuge or a safe place in their homes, some where not as fortunate. Unfortunately, North Carolina does not have an early warning system to alert people of impending weather. Without having an early warning system, the next best warning system would be a NOAA alert radio. I have several at my home and they sounded the alert early Saturday morning.
The powerful winds ripped the roof off homes in the Meadow and Benson area. As we arrived in Kenly, we observed many homes were leveled to the ground, scattering the occupant’s belongings in every direction, while others just feet away remained essentially untouched. In Kenly where we set up our shelter, we left at first light and found to our dismay many homes that had lost roofs and many more where annihilated or condemned as uninhabitable from the early morning awakening fright. And frightful shock it was, for in North Carolina, we seldom experience tornado activities, but do sustain the destruction forces from our Atlantic hurricanes. We are just so fortunate that the storm’s wrath did not happen upon a well-populated area in any of these towns, but still, it was confirmed as being deadly.
The American Red Cross and other agencies performed Damage Assessments of the area and it was shocking to see and experience what nature was capable of doing to small rural communities. I have always thought that a home constructed of brick and mortar was more secure than a mobile home. Well, Mother Nature placed my theory as being incorrect, as it did not matter the home you lived in, if you were within the swath of destruction you sustained damage or total devastation.
Many residents sustained scattered damage throughout the county, such as wrapping wood and siding around trees. Some siding hung high from trees as if a high school prankster had decorated them with toilet paper. Downed power lines crisscrossed the roads. Barns, outbuilding and fences were completely destroyed and yard ornaments and mailboxes landed hundreds of feet from their rightful homes, as these powerful winds roared through. The winds picked up and overturned many private vehicles, scattered lawnmowers, and children's toys.
Uprooted trees and tilting utility poles were the pattern, as Officials asked onlookers to stay away from the areas in Kenly and Elm City until utility companies properly handed the damage. The storm knocked out most of the power to customers along its path. Even thought asked to refrain from rubber necking, people are just curious in nature and the police department eventually closed off the roads while damage assessment and relief efforts where underway.
It wasn’t just the American Red Cross or local Fire Departments that responded to the disaster but many organizations came to their neighbors and friends assistance in the community. Many came to just clear the debris while others patched areas of a roof where they had pretty extensive leaks. One group stated "Right now we are trying to assess whether or not it is going to take further action and replace portions of the roof or the entire roof."
And what about the impact this all had upon the children? I did talk with 3 little children that were playing in a driveway concrete pad that used to be where their barn once stood. They were all coloring in a coloring book and talking about the storm. One boy was coloring in a Christmas theme coloring book. I thought, as I looked over his artistic work, that he was coloring his own Christmas Tree, and I said, "What a beautiful Christmas Tree." He looked up to me and corrected my first impression by saying, "No, that’s the tornado." They then talked to me about the movie Twister and what it was like when they watched it. I asked if they were alright and one little girl looked up into my eyes and said" The noise was horrible. It was so loud. All I could hear was glass breaking, and things banging together. I was so scared." I told the children that they and their family were O.K. and that we all be here to help them and if they needed to talk with us about what happened, to ask one of our volunteers anytime. I have been a volunteer for the American Red Cross for many years and I've never seen anything like this before…a vision that I will never forget. I pray that these children and the families of Kenly and Elm City and all of the other areas impacted from this storm never have to experience this again.
I wish to thank every organization, civic group and person that came forward to clear debris or with clothing, food and money for the victims of this horrific event. Even though each person faces their own demons, face the effects of our recession, or maybe has been laid off from work, people still came forward to help those in need. This means a lot about the character of an American and I am proud to be included in the ranks as an American that care and does something to help another American.