Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Volunteer Heroes
Charge Into Chaos

As dusk approached Bertie County on Saturday, April 16th, the news on the TV was telling about a huge storm that was moving quickly across the landscape of north eastern NC. Few could imagine the chaos and devastation that was about to change the lives of so many.

As the monster Askewville-Colerain tornado arrived, what happened reminds me of the famous story about the two kinds of people in the world. When the guns of war start, some run towards the sound of danger and some run away. We have right here among our neighbors a great number of the first kind. True heroes.

One of the volunteers, who place their own lives in jeopardy to defend us, is Askewville Fire Chief Darrell Hoggard. He was at home taking a shower when he first heard a tornado hit less than a half mile from his house. Mike Baker, another volunteer fireman, reached Darrell on his cell phone and told him of serious damage to Jakes Trailer Court nearby. Darrell quickly dressed and headed out calling other volunteers on the way, but Darrell could not even make that short distance directly as the tornado had left roads impassable with debris and fallen trees. It was chaos. So he and his fellow volunteers found a way around the obstacles so they could help their neighbors who were in trouble. The roads had to be cleared so they could get emergency vehicles through. So the volunteers started clearing.

A short time later several miles away, Perrytown Fire Chief Bud Lee was sitting at the dinner table with his wife Alice, finishing their evening meal. He had heard the tornado warning so he was listening in on the local 2-way emergency radio, just in case. Colerain Volunteer fireman Woody Pierce was driving and came across the tornado devastation on Morris Ford Road, near Whites Cross Road. He reported the damage to dispatch and told them they needed to get the Perrytown volunteers to go there. Bud heard the report. He and his fellow volunteers scrambled out of their homes and headed out towards the 'sound of danger'. Just as Darrell discovered in Askweville, the Perrytown volunteers found it was not easy to get to the place where people needed them. The tornado had blocked all the roads in the immediate area with huge fallen trees and debris. So they started moving the debris and the trees. Some had brought their power saws while others rushed home to get theirs, along with tractors that could drag large logs. The obstacles and chaos would not deter them.

A few minutes later, Colerain Fire Chief Milton Felton was watching TV with his wife Mary and was actually close enough to see the tornado out his window as it kept moving north. Milton got in his truck and headed out to Glovers Road where it appeared the tornado had been when he saw it, calling for other volunteers to join him. Just as the Askewville and Perrytown volunteers had found, the roads near the tornado damage were impassable. So the volunteers started sawing the trees into manageable pieces so they could clear the roads to get by. Milton reported the damage to Bertie County dispatch and asked for help. It was chaos there too.

On the other side of the tornado damage from Milton, Trap Fire Chief Mike Harrell was home, sitting quietly listening to the pager. When the call for help was relayed, another Volunteer, Brad Brown, heard the call and contacted Mike that they had been dispatched to Glovers Road to assist Colerain. Unknown to either of them, worse damage blocked their way and they could not get there. The tornado had leveled several homes at the corner of Nowell Farm Road and NC 42, between Trap and Colerain. They couldn't get through to Glovers Road, so they dug in and started clearing the obstacles where they found them.

Everywhere the volunteers were dealing with chaos. New calls of death and destruction were arriving minute by minute. The 2-way radio never stopped. Kenny Perry set up communications at the Instant Command Center to help organize efforts and direct resources where they were needed. Each of the groups of volunteers attacked the problems in the areas they found them as resources arrived.

It was the start of a truly long and horrific night which would have been much much worse except for all these courageous volunteers. Other volunteers arrived, including a number of local nurses who simply drove in to the sites to help. Few of these volunteers got to bed until nearly daybreak, and even then only because they needed to recharge and come back to the fight when it was light. Sunday was going to be a long long day.

During that night, these volunteers saved the lives of a number of our neighbors. Digging through buildings that had been reduced to rubble, they found the injured and got them out to where the nurses could tend them and ambulances could take them away along roads that were only passable because of their earlier efforts. It was dangerous work and a number of the volunteers were hurt during the searches. It was hard manual labor under dangerous stressful conditions in total darkness. I thank God that there are so many in our midst who are willing to 'run to the sound of danger.'

In the following days, we have heard of aid from a number of groups who deserve recognition. The first teams on site were aided by a number of other groups in our county and beyond. The people I spoke to constantly mentioned the aid of Windsor, Bear Grass, Blue Jay, Jamesville and Williamston volunteers who came to help out without being asked. Everyone was thankful to the Sheriff's department who they felt did a great job. The Forest Service has been amazingly helpful with both people and tools.

The Baptist Men have performed awesome work, constantly preparing meals for people whose lives have been disrupted. The Red Cross has helped out with deliveries of some of the meals.

On Sunday morning, the fight continued, as it would for several days. These brave men and women, our neighbors, had to deal not just with chaos but with some truly gruesome chores. Most people do not realize how the debris of a tornado can cut off limbs or puncture as the powerful forces suck things into the air and then hurl them sideways into people.

Cars were ripped apart as they were carried up to a hundred yards in places. Entire homes, with people inside were lifted and smashed to the ground a hundred yards away. At least one aluminum barn was lifted off the ground and as recently as yesterday had still not been found. Where it was taken is simply unknown. Chaos.

We owe these volunteers a lot. Even if this particular disaster did not affect some of us directly this time, next time it might!

To these great people, Thank You.

This article was published in the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and can be found here.


Inner Banks Humor - Obama

Polls say a majority of Americans want to know "What country is Obama from?"

A plurality of Americans want to know the answer to a different question. "What planet is Obama from?"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Richard Burkett Captures
Photo Of Monster Tornado

The only photo yet known of the Askewville-Colerain tornado at the heart of its deadly rampage. Click on title for complete article.

The green diamond on the map shows where the photo was taken, looking southwest from that point.

Ag Commissioner Views Damage

by Cal Bryant - April 21st, 2011 - Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald

Troxler, the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture, viewed that damage from the air and on the ground Tuesday during visits to Lee, Johnston and Bertie counties.

After his helicopter landed at Brown Peanut Company in Colerain, Troxler shared what he witnessed with a group of Bertie and Hertford County farmers as well as local agriculture officials.


Those needing assistance can call 794-5308.

Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler is a really good guy and he seems truly determined to help the people damaged by the monster tornado in our area.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Eleven Lives Lost
(Now Twelve)

by Thadd White - April 19th, 2011 - Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald

The Askewville-Colerain Tornado has the highest death toll of any tornado in the recent national storm.

Three people were killed at 1345 NC 42. They were
Barbara Lafferety, 64,
Roy Lafferty Jr., 72, and
Helen Alston White, 90.

Morris Ford Road was also the scene of three deaths.
Milton Sutton, 51, and
Mildred Warren, 68, were killed at 231 Morris Ford Road while
Peggy Leary, 60, died at 245 Morris Ford.

Two people died at 151 Harrell Road.
Robert Perry, 77, and
Celia White, 96, were both killed during the storms.

In addition,
Gayle Hinchey, 56, lost her life at 421 Elm Grove Road;
Louis Chamblee, 54, died at 422 Nowell Farm Road and
Dorothy Mitchell, 66, was killed at 628 Glovers Cross Road.

When you see the small area on the map where all the deaths occurred (indicated by the red stars) and realize it is a rural agricultural area - not a town - it is clear, this was one powerful tornado.

Our prayers go out to the friends and family of these loved ones who lost their lives. May God bless and comfort the friends and family in this time of grief and loss.

Also do not forget, hundreds were injured and many of these remain in hospitals throughout the area.

Bertie Death Toll Rises To Twelve

Mary Williams, age 50 of Morris Ford Road, Colerain, became the 12th victim of the deadly storm. She had been in Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville since Saturday night in critical condition.

The Map has been updated to indicate all who died.

Askewville-Colerain Tornado
- The Rest Of The Damage

I was not able to photograph all of the homes that were destroyed in the storm on my first day of effort for a couple of reasons. One, some of the roads were blocked by power company trucks stringing lines and county vehicles clearing debris. Two, there is only so much destruction that I could tolerate in one day. So today I went back out to document the other half. These pictures are covering the areas I missed in the first article posted below.

I respected the desire for privacy by those who waved me off when I raised my camera. I understand. Having memories of this event is painful. However that has resulted in a lot of serious damage not being included in this documentation of the event.

In talking with people I think a lot who were not in the direct path of destruction felt like I did. Before they understood the extent of the destruction, they were annoyed with the damage their property had undergone. Gutters torn off. Windows broken. Shingles damaged. Tree limbs and debris in the yard. Trees uprooted and stripped of leaves. Entire pine stands with needles stripped and bent over like pretzels. Today we are just so thankful at what we now realize is trivial damage. We are also feeling so guilty. When you look at these pictures and see the awesome destruction of this event, you can only feel sorrow for those who truly bore the brunt of the storm.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Askewville-Colerain Tornado

The following is a map showing the general path of the Askewville-Colerain Tornado that hit Northeastern Bertie County last Saturday night. Following the map are pictures of around 50 to 55 of the destroyed buildings. 11 deaths is half of all the deaths in NC and a quarter of all the deaths in the nation. Hundreds were taken to the hospitals around the area, some in such critical shape that they are likely to add to the death toll.

One lady who was missing for most of Sunday was found 300 yards back in some woods, nearly a quater of a mile from where the tornado picked her up. We can only pray that she was dead before it lifted her up and carried her so far. The possiblity that she was alive is heartbreaking.

These pictures show barely half the destruction since many of the roads are still closed for restoration of electric power. While I was taking these pictures I saw more than 50 trucks replacing uprooted power poles and hanging power lines. The area is truly devastated. You can tell that from the pictures below.

There were three roads that had significant tornado damage that were still closed when I went out to take photos. I will add pictures of the destruction on those roads as soon as they open up.