Autryville picks up tornado-strewn pieces

Posted May 24

— The air in Autryville was filled with the growls of chainsaws Wednesday as people cleared up the damage from a tornado that hit the Sampson County town on Tuesday afternoon.

The EF1 tornado, with winds up to 110 mph, ripped apart the Autryville Fire Department's firehouse, damaged or destroyed four mobile homes and caused minor damage to a few businesses in town, officials said.

At least one person was injured.

"It was something that I would never expect just to hit us," said Jody Conrad, one of six firefighters and two residents inside the station when the storm blew the building apart and debris started flying.

"Our game play was to go to the bathroom, which is the building that's left standing in the back, but that didn't happen," Conrad said, noting that there was no warning before the tornado hit.

"A column of bricks from the back wall came over and hit her and threw her up under the truck," he said, referring to his fire captain's sister, who was visiting the station at the time. "In a matter of second, everybody was under the truck. It felt like a minute and a half it was sitting on top of us."

Conrad said he struggled to get himself to safety.

"There were three individuals under [one] truck. There were three individuals under [another] truck. I was at the door. I was the first one at the back door, so I was holding on when it actually hit the station," he said. "I couldn't get the door open, so I let go of the door. The wind and stuff blew me under [a truck]."

After the storm passed, the first responders still tried to do their job even though all but one of the fire department's trucks were damaged.

"We got out and made sure everybody (at the station) was OK. Then, we did what were supposed to do – we went around town," Conrad said.

They helped anyone who was dazed by the storm while wondering how anyone in its path could have survived.

"I never in a million years would have thought it would have landed here and picked up and left, but I'm just glad everybody is OK."

Autryville residents likewise said they can't believe more people weren't hurt and more homes weren't destroyed.

"The big trees in the front blew away from the house, and the trees in the back blew towards the house, but none of them was long enough to hit the house. So, I was real fortunate there," resident Terry Spell said as he stood among several fallen trees.

Members of the North Carolina Baptist Men disaster relief ministry were in Autryville helping residents clean up and clear impassable roads as utility crews worked to restore power to the 200 residents in the area.

"Fortunately, most of us have jobs or a place in life that we can drop everything and come out," said Joel Bailey of N.C. Baptist Men.

They crews also brought prayers for storm victims such as Pearl and Lattie Faircloth, whose home was covered with limbs and debris, although it was spared severe damage.

Pearl Faircloth said that, when the storm hit, the couple thought they were goners.

"I didn't know nothing about it until I heard glass, and those windows out there was busted out," she said.

The Red Cross also was providing aid to those affected by the tornado. Anybody in need of assistance as a result of the storm can call 910-867-8151.

A state of emergency and a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew remains in effect for the town until further notice.

Fire Chief Andrew Hawkins sent a radio message Tuesday evening that his department was out of service. Within hours, neighboring fire departments responded and provided three fully staffed fire trucks to assist Autryville in its recovery.


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