Easley pledges state assistance to tornado victims

Although more than 60 homes were damaged or destroyed in Johnston and Wilson counties, the governor said he did not expect the state would qualify for federal disaster assistance.

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ELM CITY, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley on Monday toured damage sites in Johnston and Wilson counties as teams began to assess the destruction wreaked by two tornadoes that tore through several counties while people slept Saturday morning.

After viewing the damage from helicopter, Easley said he was "amazed there were not more injuries."

Twisters killed two people – Joshua Wiggins, 11, of London Church Road in Elm City, and Marylin Gomez, 61, of Scott Road in Kenly – and damaged or destroyed 26 homes in Wilson and 40 in Johnston, along with one business. Preliminary estimates put the damage at $500,000.

"It appears that the tornado, rather than following a swath, it hopped around," Easley said. "It jumped around from spot to spot."

The governor said he chose to view the damaged areas from the sky, rather on the ground, to avoid disrupting recovery workers' efforts.

"it's better for us to stay out of the way and do the aerial tours. That way they keep doing their work," he said. "Let's just kind of stay out of here until recovery is complete. They're still in recovery mode in both counties."

Easley did not expect the extent of the damage would be enough to qualify for federal assistance, but he said the state was well positioned to provide aid.

"If we have enough damage, we get SBA loans from the federal government," said Easley, adding that the state can make emergency grants up to $28,000 if no federal funds are available.

"We'll be able to handle it on the state level if that's what we need to do," he said. "At the end of the day, we're going to make sure everyone is taken care of."

Star Edmonson, whose Kenly home got smashed by a tree, said she has already heard that message from state representatives.

"We've already had some of them to come through, tell us whatever insurance doesn't pay, we'll pay for," Edmonson said.

To receive state emergency grants, individuals must live in a county with at least 25 homes or businesses with more than 40 percent uninsured damage. The grants cover both building and personal property loss.

The federal government requires counties to have at least 100 buildings damaged to qualify for assistance.

Once the final estimates of damage come in, Easley said he planned to declare a state of emergency.

"The faster they get the information to us, the faster we can get assistance out to the families of the people that need it," Easley said.

In the meantime, Edmonson said she is confident she be able to get by.

"I've done all my crying. I've let it out, and the Lord just come to me and said, 'You're already alive,'" Edmonson said. "So that's what I'm living on: I'm alive; everything else can be replaced."

How to help

Memorial funds for the Wiggins family and those displaced along London Church Road have been set up through the North Carolina State Employees Credit Union. Donations can be mailed to:

Joshua Wiggins Memorial Fund
Acct. # 60531309
P.O. Box 8097

Wilson, NC 27893


London Church Road Family Disaster Relief
Acct. #60531311
P.O. Box 8097

Wilson, NC 27893

"They need everything they can get. At this point, they have nothing," Easley said.

The governor said the best way the public can help out storm victims is by donating to the Red Cross.

Checks should include "Wilson-Johnston tornado" in the memo line, and all donations can be mailed to:

American Red Cross
801 S. Third St.

Smithfield, N.C. 27577


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