Rain Can't Dampen Rocky Point Cleanup Effort
Posted August 16, 2004 12:23 p.m. EDT
ROCKY POINT, N.C. — For residents of Rocky Point, a hurricane was nothing in comparison to the vicious weather that killed three of their neighbors.
People braved driving rain Sunday to pick through the wreckage of their homes in the neighborhood where two men and a toddler were killed by a tornado on Friday. The rain was just an afterthought as the residents thought back to Friday.
Thelma Green, 45, shivered as she sat in a pickup truck outside her trailer home. She was inside when the tornado, spawned by Tropical Storm Bonnie, flipped the home onto its side.
bore down on the state Saturday, she was in the hospital with a broken arm. News of more bad weather meant nothing to her.
"I just thanked the Lord I was still living," she said.
The twister was one of several Thursday and Friday created by weather systems associated with Bonnie and Charley.
Dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed in eastern North Carolina. But this neighborhood of Pender County was particularly hard-hit.
The tornado gave a quick, powerful and deadly blow. Then, it was gone.
"I'm telling you; you never heard anything like that before," said resident and witness Wilbert McIntyre.
McIntyre said he was asleep with his wife when the tornado ripped apart his roof. Then it skipped across the street, hitting several more homes, killing three people, including a young child.
"That was a hurting thing," McIntyre said. "Yes, it was. Yes, it was."
In all, the tornado destroyed at least 20 homes. Some of the houses left standing were considered unsafe and condemned, and they will be torn down.
The Red Cross was on site again Sunday, checking with survivors to see what help they needed.
Andrew Malloy, a long-haul trucker, said he was driving through Texas when he heard about the back-to-back weather disasters threatening his home.
He made it home at about 2 p.m. Saturday, about the time Charley was downgraded to a tropical storm.
The damage had been done a day earlier -- his beloved pecan trees were on the ground, a magnolia tree had been pitched onto the roof of his house, and other rubble covered the back yard.
The body of 28-year-old Julio Pacheco, his next-door neighbor, was found about 50 yards from his house.
Malloy pointed to the old family home nearby where he was born 64 years ago, a now-empty house that has withstood decades of hurricanes that regularly rake this part of the state.
"I've always said this area was blessed," he said. "Even when (Hurricane) Fran came through here several years ago, we never felt we were in danger."
Now he is preparing a marker to memorialize Pacheco, and rethinking his attitude.
"I told my wife the next time a hurricane is coming, I want her to get out of the house and get to higher ground," he said.
Down the street, Tonya Boykins would have been glad to take that advice. But, numb from the tornado's devastation and grateful that her house was intact, she could not bring herself to move as Charley neared.
"I just thought: 'I can't run,'" Boykin said. "Now we've made it through tornadoes, and we were getting ready for Hurricane Charley."
She gathered her grandchildren and other family members into a back room.
"I said: 'Oh Lord, it's time to pray now,'" she said. "I rode it out through Fran, and now I can say I rode out a tornado and a hurricane."
Survivors like McIntyre were thankful to protect anything that was left. Volunteers nailed tarps onto roofs to cover holes in them and protect what they could of the houses still standing.
"My wife has got a lot of lovely furniture, expensive furniture," McIntyre said. "And this is to keep from damaging it any more than what it is."