Published: 2011-04-23 14:45:00
Updated: 2011-04-23 22:20:58
Posted April 23, 2011 2:45 p.m. EDT
Updated April 23, 2011 10:20 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina is shifting from emergency response to recovery a week after the largest tornado outbreak in state history struck, emergency and nonprofit officials said Saturday.
"We've been serving the community since about 168 hours ago when the storms dropped out of the sky and changed lives in our community," Red Cross spokesman Barry Porter said.
Last Saturday, 12 supercell thunderstorms spawned 28 tornadoes in 33 counties, killing 24 people, injuring at least 130 people and destroying or damaging more than 6,000 homes and businesses at last count.
Three temporary shelters at high schools and churches in Raleigh have been consolidated into more permanent quarters at graduate and family apartments at North Carolina State University.
"We're providing privacy for these families, because after a week of sleeping with strangers in a gymnasium, it can get stressful," Wake County Emergency Management Director Josh Creighton said.
Up to 40 families can stay in the N.C. State apartments, which have cots, a kitchen and a shower.
Serita McMillan said she and her finance Johnny Baldwin were grateful for the apartment after losing their home in the storm.
"For now, we have a place to be," McMillan said. "That is a blessing."
The Red Cross continues to run temporary shelters in Dunn, Fayetteville and Bertie County. The shelters will stay open as long as they're needed.
"This is not over. It's just a different phase in the relationship with our clients as we help them survive the storm and be better and stronger families after this is over," Porter said.
The Red Cross will also help families with mental health counseling.
"Anytime anybody's impacted by a disaster, whether it's two days or 14 days later, there's usually some kind of regret, remorse. The grieving process affects different people differently," Creighton said.
Officials also urged those hurt by the storm to seek help at disaster recovery centers run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
People should first apply for assistance online or by calling 1-800-621-3362, said Emily Young, assistant director for recovery with the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.
The disaster recovery centers then act as one-stop shopping, letting people check the status of their aid application, access federal aid they're eligible for and get connected to other aid agencies, such as the Red Cross.
Eligible storm victims can get assistance with rent, moving expenses, medical or funeral costs, and applying for unemployment.
Recovery centers have opened in Wake, Cumberland, Lee, Johnston and Bertie counties, and two centers will open in Bladen and Harnett County Sunday. Young said more centers will be opened in different counties throughout next week.
"We think that this is a great effort that the community pulled together – all the volunteers, all the state groups and local groups – to help out people in this time of sorrow," Michael Bolch, FEMA's coordinating officer in North Carolina, said.