March tornado strike was family's third in same location

Posted April 17, 2009 5:05 p.m. EDT
Updated April 17, 2009 7:17 p.m. EDT

— The tornado that blew through Cumberland and Robeson counties last month was a familiar but terrifying experience for Sandy McMillan. Her family’s home has been hit by storms three times in four decades.

According to the National Weather Service report on the March 27 event, “This was the third time that a home at the same location on Roslin Farm Road was damaged or destroyed by a tornado since the owner moved there in 1968.”

McMillan, who is rebuilding again, said Friday, “They always come from that way."

In 1969, McMillan’s family lived in a mobile home on Roslin Farm Road, and a tornado destroyed their home. McMillan was on her way home from high school at the time. In 1978, McMillan was at work, but her two youngest children were home with a babysitter when a storm destroyed their home a second time. Her son, then 8, had to crawl out of the rubble.

After that experience, McMillan and her husband, seeking something sturdier, rebuilt with brick. That house stood firm for 30 years, until last month’s tornado outbreak tore off the roof.

This time, McMillan was inside when she heard the winds wail.

"I looked outside, and I knew something was wrong," she said. “I wasn't scared at all. I figured if the good Lord was calling me home, that's where I'd go."

The weather service concluded that an EF-1 tornado touched down on McMillan’s home just north of the Robeson County line, southeast of Hope Mills. “The tornado damage track was about 50 yards wide and stretched northeast for approximately 5 miles,” the weather service reported.

A cluster of storms plowed through Sampson and Johnston counties that evening, damaging dozens of homes from Robeson County to Wake County. One woman was injured on East Everett Road near Parkton. Robeson County Emergency Management, said the mobile home where Jamie Sewell, 23, rode out the storm "was torn all to pieces."

McMillan, who took shelter in a bathroom, was not hurt. When she emerged, only 20 percent of her roof remained.

McMillan, who has been a school bus driver for local schools for 23 years, was amazed by the outpouring of support from her neighbors. She is grateful for those who helped her get out of the house, clean up debris and recover her belongings.

A construction bin and a portable storage unit are evidence to passersby that McMillan and her family plan to rebuild again. To her, this location is neither lucky not unlucky. It is, simply, home.