Local News

Raleigh historic cemeteries still await tornado cleanup

Posted June 22, 2011 4:57 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2011 7:47 a.m. EDT

— The grandson of a couple buried in one of Raleigh's historic cemeteries is questioning why the city has neglected to clean up grave sites after a tornado ripped through the area more than two months ago.

Larry Stroud made a special visit this week to Mt. Hope Cemetery, where his grandparents are buried, while his niece and her daughter were in town from California. He said he was shocked to find the family tombstone had been toppled and that storm debris still littered the memorial park.

"It makes me feel a little sad because of the fact that we feel like, after you die, you should be in good care, but obviously they're not in good care," Stroud said.

Three cemeteries in Raleigh, including the oldest public one, City Cemetery, have been closed since the April 16 tornado. Others, however, including nearby Oakwood Cemetery, which is private, were cleaned up promptly. Stroud questioned the delay.

"We do know this is a predominantly black cemetery here. Hopefully, that's not the reason," he said.

City officials say the cleanup is pending a bid for an archaeologist who has to examine the root balls of each downed tree to determine whether it contains human remains. The procedure is part of state preservation rules for historic properties.

The city says it's still searching for a consultant who can help draft a cleanup plan that follows the state's guidelines. It also hopes to get reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Historic properties are part of (the reason for delay), also the federal reimbursement, but also quite frankly, taking care of the neighborhoods and people who are living is the first priority," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said. "We'll get to the cemeteries second."

According to the city's timeline, the archaeological work won't begin until August and tree removal will start in September. If cleanup crews face any inclement weather, however, city officials said it could take another year to reopen the cemeteries.