Local News

Physical, emotional damage linger six months after tornadoes

Posted October 14, 2011 4:46 p.m. EDT
Updated October 14, 2011 6:24 p.m. EDT

— Six months after a series of tornadoes raked across eastern North Carolina, some neighborhoods have rebuilt while homeowners in other areas have walked away from the damage to seek a new start.

Twenty-eight tornadoes hit 33 counties from the Triangle east on April 16, killing 24 people and causing millions of dollars in damage. Cleaning up from the storm has cost about $18.2 million, according to Julia Jarema, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety.

One of the hardest hit areas was Fayetteville, where 573 homes were destroyed and another 800 sustained damage.

"A lot of homes that were destroyed were flipped," said John Allen, who operates a tree-removal business that did a lot of work in Fayetteville after the storms.

Allen also bought a home in the Cottonade neighborhood off Yadkin Road after the woman who lived there decided she didn't want to deal with the cleanup.

"She was done with this thing," Allen said of the home, which is still in tatters. "She didn't want any more of it at all. It was overwhelming."

Dexter Phillips likewise decided to sell after the tornado. He had rented out his house in the Summerhill East neighborhood while he was deployed to Afghanistan.

"The biggest headache was not knowing the status – what was going on. Then, I received a letter from the city, saying the house was a nuisance," Phillips said. "I just want to get from under it."

Building contractors said they were swamped with jobs after the storm, and the workload and waiting on insurance claims to be settled delayed some repairs.

Debris is still piled up outside some homes, while other lots sit empty after damaged homes were razed.

"Because so many things had to be restored, I think the neighborhood is going to look better. It has started to look better,” homeowner Marie Owens said.

Owens said she had trees down "all the way to my front door" after the tornado, but all of the damage to her Summerhill East home has been repaired.

"It's nice to see change, with people coming and new flower beds going in (and) people waving," Allen said.

Dunn family starting anew

Stanley and Sherry Baker love sizzling up some down-home cooking, but for the first time in six months, they can do it in a home they can call their own.

A tornado ripped apart their home of 28 years in Dunn, forcing them to move with their handicapped daughter into a hotel for a while and then to a rented house. They moved this week into a home they recently bought.

"It's been a long six months," Sherry Baker said.

"It doesn't feel like six months, maybe like three months," her husband said with a laugh. "Oh, Sherry's looking at me. (She) says it feels like a year."

After the storm, some of their belongings were stolen from the scattered remains of their house. Then, Stanley Baker had to undergo knee-replacement surgery.

Four weeks ago, Sherry Baker was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and she underwent surgery to remove the tumor this week.

"You're always going to have objects to overcome, things in life that just don't go the way you want," she said.

The Bakers credit their faith for seeing them through the series of hardships and allowing them to move to a new home and keep their family close.

"I feel very blessed. Even with all we've been through, I still feel very blessed," Sherry Baker said.

She said she will learn next week from her surgeon if all of the cancer has been removed. She said she is confident he got it all, and she's looking forward to putting up Christmas decorations.

"I am a tough old girl," she said with a laugh.