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Community comes together in tornado aftermath

A church next to Erwin Montessori sustained significant damage during Sunday's tornado in Greensboro. Photo by Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

“We’re just trying to take care of people,” said Millicent Lee of New Light Missionary Baptist Church. “There are a lot of people without power, especially our senior citizens that need emergency assistance.”

New Light was just one of many area churches, organizations and residents that rallied around east Greensboro families and residents devastated by a tornado which struck Greensboro on Sunday, April 15.

The National Weather Service categorized the tornado as a “high-end EF-2” with maximum wind speeds of 135 mph and a width of 300 feet. The worst of the damage took place along a four mile stretch from Barber Park to Phillips Ave. on the eastern part of Guilford County, devastating homes, schools and businesses. There was one confirmed death. 48-year-old Anthony George of Greensboro was killed when a tree fell on his moving car as he drove along East Cone Blvd. and Caesar Street. Renne George, 49, a passenger in the vehicle was injured. Becky Combs, 48, the driver of another vehicle was also injured.

Volunteers feed the displaced families.
Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker
According to Duke Energy reports, about 35,000 Guilford County homes and businesses were without power on Monday, including several schools. The city and county A local State of Emergency was declared for the city and county and schools were closed for two days. Hampton, Peeler and Erwin Montessori Elementary Schools were all severely damaged and will remain closed. See related story page 4A.

“We have to keep in mind that our residents are living in a war zone,” said Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan about the damage. “Today everyone is grateful to be alive, as we’re grateful for them to be alive.”

Running on generators on Monday, New Light Missionary Baptist Church on Willow Road set up a community site for residents to receive food and water. Volunteers also delivered hot meals to people who were unable to travel to the church. Food donations were provided by various fraternity, sorority and community organizations. Restaurants such as Golden Corral and Libby Hill donated food as well as Food Lion Groceries. The shelter set up at the Glenwood Recreation Center has been moved closer to Windsor Recreation Center, which is closer to the victims of the storm’s damage. Shelter is also available at Dudley High School and the YWCA on East Wendover.

“Our goal is to meet the immediate needs for food, water and shelter, because this will need to be a long-term sustained effort,” said Rep. Amos Quick, District 58 State House Representative and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in High Point.

East Greensboro resident Kim Cotton said her family had been without power since the storm hit. She said her East Bessemer home still stands but the storm shattered all the windows.

“I feel blessed that we are safe and still even have a home to go back to,” said Cotton, who added that she and her two children would be staying with family across town temporarily. “A lot of other people were not so lucky.”

Community assistance sites with food, water and other supplies were also set up in the parking lots of the Food Lion on East Market Street, the Renaissance Community Co-op on Phillips Avenue, and Peeler Recreation Center.

Mental health professionals were also on hand for people to talk to at Peeler. LaTasha Carter, a licensed therapist at Therapeutic Connections noted that while distributing food and resources to people is important, surviving a natural disaster can be an extremely traumatic event.

“We have to remember that some of these people just lost everything. And they may be feeling overwhelmed or stressed, and not sure where to even begin to put the pieces of their lives back together. Or they just may need someone to talk to,” said Carter. “We want to try to keep people’s spirits up and give them hope while going through this difficult time.”

According to estimates from Greensboro City Manager Jim Westmoreland, 1,007 structures from single-family homes to businesses were damaged: 37 were destroyed,162 sustained major damage, 312 were hit with minor damage and 484 were “affected.”

In a press release, Don Campbell, with Guilford County Emergency Services, stated, “Of the structures hit, 199 are either completely destroyed of suffered major damage. Minor damage means there is actual structural damage itself, while those classified as affected are more cosmetic damages, such as missing shingles or siding. Anything classified as other (12 structures) indicates crews were unable to accurately assess the damage. Power lines may have prevented access or downed trees.”

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper visited Greensboro on Monday to see the storm damage.

“We are greatly saddened to learn of a death from these storms, but are grateful that so many of our residents came through it safely,” he said. “Today cleanup begins, and we all need to pull together to help these communities pick up the pieces.”

As part of clean-up efforts on Tuesday, volunteers from Peeler Recreation Center went into the King’s Forest community to clean up debris, check on the elderly and people who may be stuck in their homes. Volunteer Dauna Jessup said she wanted to help because she was concerned about contractors preying on the elderly by charging high fees for minor cleanup.

“It’s unfortunate that people want to take advantage of people who are in need right now,” said Jessup.

Melvin “Skip”Alston, District 8 Guilford County Commissioner, visited multiple communities and has helped organize community efforts in the days since the storm struck. He said, moving forward it’s going to take collaborative efforts on the part of the community, the city and the county to rebuild.

“We have to keep going and stay united as a community. Now, more than ever do we need investment and development on this side of town. So as we rebuild, we need to build it up better than it was before,” said Alston.