Bertie County begins long road to recovery

Posted April 18, 2011 6:25 p.m. EDT
Updated April 18, 2011 6:45 p.m. EDT

— For a second day Monday, residents of Bertie County picked through the rubble of homes obliterated by a Saturday tornado to salvage what they could and begin to rebuild their lives.

Eleven of the 23 people killed statewide from the storm system lived in the rural eastern North Carolina county. Gov. Beverly Perdue visited the area Monday to offer condolences and get an idea of the scope of the damage and the needs for recovery.

"It breaks your heart. It's not just the physical damage, it's the emotional damage," Perdue said.

Dominique Montaque said a man who lived next door to her was killed in the storm.

"Something hit the house, and I said, 'That doesn't sound good.' So, I went to the back door and saw that our neighbor's tree was coming directly toward our house," Montaque said. "He was still outside, and I just couldn't do anything about it."

Bertie County officials estimated damage at more than $2.5 million. They said about 6,000 customers in the area remained without power on Monday, and utility crews had fanned out across the region to restore power.

The Red Cross and Salvation Army were passing out water and meals to storm victims on Monday.

Perdue said she hopes the federal government will issue a disaster declaration by Thursday so people can begin applying for aid. Because the county doesn't have a lot of rental property, state officials are looking at bringing in mobile homes to give residents someplace to live, she said.

"The individuals, quite frankly, are my priority right now," she said.

The governor spoke with residents like Morgan Barfield, whose 90-year-old grandmother, Helen White, was killed by the tornado. White was with her daughter and son-in-law when the twister tossed their house into the woods, killing all three.

The family is trying to salvage what they can, and Barfield hung a flag awarded to her late grandfather, World War II veteran Ralph White, from a nearby tree.

Other residents pitched in to help their neighbors.

"None of this is our stuff. We're just helping clean up," said Jessica Felton, who moved out of a demolished home a few months ago.

"I was, like, 'Wow, I'd be dead now.' That was the first thing that came to my mind. I'd be dead," Fulton said.

Perdue said the resilient nature of North Carolina residents would help Bertie County recover from its losses.

"We will bury our families. We will mourn our families – the holes will be there forever – but the same people who are mourning will begin in the next week or two to figure out how to build it back and get on with their lives," she said.