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Tornado Damage Estimate at $7.6 million

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ZEBULON, N.C. (AP) — April 17, 1996 - 8:04 a.m. EDTBy ESTES THOMPSON,Associated Press Writer

She didn't know the damage estimates or what was happening in other areas chewed by tornadoes. All she knew was her trailer was uninhabitable and she wasn't sure what to do.

``I have never been in one before and I hope it will be my last,'' Leona Whitley said Tuesday as she searched piles of debris at Westside Trailer Park.

Whitley's car was smashed and her mobile home tipsy from a bout with high swirling winds. She said she and her two children were lucky to have lived through Monday evening's storm.

The mobile home park was the hardest hit place in this town east of Raleigh. About 60 mobile homes were destroyed or damaged but, fortunately, no one was killed.

``I got down on the floor. The coffee table started turning,'' Whitley said, still shocked after a night in a shelter. ``There's a lot I can't explain. I don't know what we're going to do.''

State officials said the damage estimates totaled about $7.6 million today and were climbing.

Since it's not a disaster of the caliber to merit federal disaster money, much of the rebuilding costs from this storm will have to come from the private sector.

Dennis Levin of the North Carolina Interfaith Response Center met with representatives of several service organizations to give them a glimpse of the recovery process.

Levin says recovery will come in stages.

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At Zebulon Middle School, scores of workers and a procession of dump trucks hauled away wreckage from the oldest of five buildings in the school complex.

Officials said the 1923 building likely will be razed. Half of its roof was blown off, exposing classrooms that had held sixth grade students hours before the tornado hit around 6:30 p.m.

The school has been closed since Tuesday, but is expected to reopen Thursday.

Wake County school Superintendent Jim Surratt said it would cost $121 a square foot to rebuild the 12,517 square foot building.

A few miles away from Zebulon, the village of Pilot in Franklin County was hit hard by the tornado.

Betty Pearce said she jumped into her bathtub when she heard the storm approach. She prayed, and knew that her prayers were answered when she found herself alive in a briar patch.

Bruised and scratched, the 65-year-old Pearce said she would move in with one of her three daughters and forsake the junked remains of her rented house.

Officials said the tornado that swept the community of about 1,500 residents destroyed five houses and damaged 40 others. The storm came through the crossroads at the center of Pilot.

``It was huge,'' said Fire Chief Gerry Jones, who had to back up his truck to avoid the funnel as he raced to the fire station. Copyright ©1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed.

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