Local News

WRAL Anchorman, Victims Reflect On 15th Anniversary Of Raleigh Tornado

Posted November 28, 2003 6:53 a.m. EST

— Fifteen years ago this week, a tornado whipped through Raleigh and several northern counties and devastated the area. People still remember the immediate catastrophic aftermath.

Nov. 28, 1988. Cheryl and David Pridgen remember that date well.

"About 1 a.m. that night, all of a sudden I heard what I thought was an airplane landing on the house. And I said,'Well, that's a loud plane from RDU, but it's not stopping,'" David Pridgen said.

Chuck Liles yelled for his wife and kids.

"It's like an explosion or implosion of your house. [My wife] grabbed Lauren and I grabbed Phil, and I threw them down in the hall and grabbed hold of the dorm jams and the next thing I know -- boom," he said.

WRAL anchorman Charlie Gaddy got a call from a friend.

"He called me and said, 'Charlie, all hell has broken loose,'" Gaddy said.

Gaddy rushed to the Towne Ridge Shopping Center, where the Kmart had been flattened.

"There was a man trapped in there. Fire and rescue people stayed in the rubble until they found him. [He was] hurt, but alive," he said.

The Pridgens live behind the shopping center. Their first house in the same spot was destroyed in seconds.

"If you walked in, we had a roof in [one] room and behind it a pile of bricks from the chimney. The room we were in was the room that was saved, and so none of us were hurt," Cheryl Pridgen said.

"I came in the living room and there's a big pine tree, like a javelin, that's stuck straight through the wall," Liles said.

Liles lives in the Hampton Oaks subdivision. Just down the street, 9-year-old Janet Barnes was killed when the tornado destroyed her family's home.

"And he says, 'My daughter dies in one room and in my bedroom there's a $5 dollar bill that's still sitting on the dresser drawer," Liles remembers.

The tornado killed another child in the same neighborhood. Pete Fulghum died as his bedroom walls came crashing in on top of him on that Monday morning. His family found his body an hour later, laying still beside his favorite fishing rod.

"The devastation of this thing was incredible," Gaddy said. "I'll never forget seeing a woman on the second floor at this apartment development off Creedmoor [Road]. There were no walls on the second floor, but her dresser. It's amazing what things are preserved and what things are blown away. Her dresser was still there and she went up and started going through the items on her dresser with no walls around her."

The Asbury United Methodist Church was flattened.

"We looked over there... and there was a man. He was looking through the rubble and he said something that was incredible. He said, 'You know, a church is not a building.' And he said, 'The church is still intact... and we will build it back,'" Gaddy remembered.

When it was over, the tornado had killed four people. It damaged more than 1,000 homes, with losses totaling $75 million.

"I just remember how lucky we were with the friends and the people that came the next day," Liles said. "People I'd never met before taking my laundry and cleaning it and bringing food. It warms your heart when you see how people react."

"It's an experience you never forget and you never want to go through again," Cheryl Pridgen said.

"Your life can be turned upside down in one second, and a lot of people's lives were," Gaddy said. "If there's a lesson in it, it's you better enjoy today. Enjoy the calm times, because the rough times can come."

The tornado swept across 83 miles from Raleigh to Northampton County. It not only killed the two children, but also a husband and wife. More than 500 people were temporarily homeless.