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Bureaucracy buries tornado cleanup at historic Raleigh cemeteries

Posted September 12, 2011

— Five months after a tornado uprooted trees in three historic cemeteries near downtown Raleigh, the city is still awaiting approval to clean up the damage, and the delay is frustrating relatives of people buried there.

Trees remain down at City Cemetery, the oldest public cemetery, where Raleigh's founding fathers and legislators are buried, O'Rorke Cemetery, which dates to 1858, and Mount Hope Cemetery, a historic African-American graveyard.

Clarence Lightner, Raleigh's first black mayor, is buried at Mount Hope, and his son had to remove pieces of bark from a large tree that still lies atop the grave marker so he could read it.

"It's frustrating to see a historic cemetery of this nature still in this condition (five) months after the storm. It's really, really not only frustrating, but it's disrespectful," Bruce Lightner said Monday. "We can do better than this."

For Raleigh to be reimbursed for cleaning up the cemeteries, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state preservation rules required an archaeological survey be completed.

"We could not just rush in and clean the cemeteries up, remove the tree debris, do necessary tree work and restore the cemeteries because they are historic properties," said Wayne Schindler, superintendent of Raleigh's Parks Department.

The survey documented and collected tiny human remains, metal coffin handles and other items unearthed by the trees, Schindler said. FEMA and state preservation officials had have the report for more than two weeks but haven't yet approved any cleanup.

Mount Hope Cemetery Debris remains in Raleigh cemeteries months after tornado

FEMA officials couldn't be reached Monday for comment.

Because of safety concerns, the three cemeteries remain locked, but Schindler said relatives can call the office of any of the cemeteries to arrange an escorted visit to a specific grave.

"This is not FEMA property. This is city of Raleigh property, and I kind of have a feeling that FEMA is being used as a scapegoat," Lightner said. "The city has money, or should have money in their budget, to clean up this cemetery by now and then be reimbursed by FEMA."

Raleigh City Councilman Eugene Weeks said the government should offer the city a waiver so it can start the cleanup without further delay.

"Something needs to be done now, not FEMA telling us when we can do it," Weeks said. "Just say, 'Go ahead and do it, and we will reimburse you.'"


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  • bekindinnc Sep 13, 2011

    I have training and experience in cemetery documentation, photography, & gravestone repair (professional training, not just whipping up some quik-crete). I offered my time, supplies & tools immediately after the damage, and about a month later. Completely free. Never rec'd a call, email, nothing.

    I am certain some damaged areas should have an archaeological survey, but not many, & certainly not everything. THAT is a complete waste of money. Mark off & conduct surveys where needed, but get to work on the rest. Of course use skilled folks for repairs & tree removal, but volunteers could assist with cleanup, documentation, & other tasks (there's plenty of need). You don't need a bunch of high-priced consultants, committees of prominent citizens, years of planning, etc. And FEMA - I'm sorry, but they struggle to take proper care of the living after a disaster. Also, Raleigh did not take proper care of these sacred places before the damage.

  • david1009 Sep 13, 2011

    I don't understand why FEMA should be financially responsible for storm damages and cleanup? Isn't that what insurance is for?

  • deton8tor Sep 13, 2011

    If a tree had fallen on top of my families graves I would have gone out and cleared it myself. Cutting up fallen trees is not gong to hurt anything. Bev just wants Federal bucks that's all.

  • mfarmer1 Sep 12, 2011

    >> You mean a group of volunteers couldn't be found to go in and clean these up?

    I think you need to re-read the article. you may have missed the part about unearthed "human remains", "state preservation officials", "historic cemetery", And Not stated the red tape it takes to do anything.

    maybe bev can help with this so she can get re-election votes.

  • missy01 Sep 12, 2011

    move on people...you should have done it yourself instead of waiting on funding. the government is not your answer to all of your problems.

  • gadgetry Sep 12, 2011

    RB, when I volunteered for tornado cleanup duty, we were told we were not allowed in the cemeteries because they were private property and we did not have the permission of the land owners.

    I originally did not know that and started cleanup at one of the sites and someone came and told me I was to stop immediately.

    So there is more than just Raleigh vs FEMA going on here. Seems someone who cares could get the approval and then ask for help and there would be volunteers, like me, willing to step in - but only if we are welcome.

  • Viewer Sep 12, 2011

    Does this mean that if they were not depending on federal tax dollar to clean it up that it could have been done already by the families and local churches?

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Sep 12, 2011

    You mean a group of volunteers couldn't be found to go in and clean these up?