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Residents and volunteers prepare for long road ahead

This badly damaged home on East Bessemer Avenue in Greensboro is one of many structures struck by an April 15 tornado. Photo by Joe Daniels/Carolina Peacemaker
It has been a little over a week since a tornado tore through East Greensboro, devastating schools and businesses and displacing hundreds of residents.

Jerald Brown Jr., along with his wife and three children, lost their Florida Street home of three years and have had to relocate to an apartment in West Greensboro. The home sustained extensive damage to the back of the house when high winds ripped the rear door off and sucked most of their belongings out into the street.

“This has set us back a little bit, but the churches and people in the neighborhood around here have been right there with food and water, helping us move and get the resources we need to find a new place to live,” said Brown.

It was days before city workers were able to get through the fallen trees and down power lines, so the residents took matters into their own hands. Brown organized a team of people to go door to door checking on people.

“That’s a retirement community, and we were out of power for days. So we felt it was important to check on the senior citizens, because it was tough down there. Someone may have needed immediate help,” said Brown, noting he was proud how hcommunity and the area’s churches came together to help get water and assistance to the affected neighborhoods.

A group of East Greensboro community leaders, residents and business owners organized the first Disaster Relief Center in the city at Peeler Recreation Center to get much needed supplies to residents the day after the storm. Now, people can also receive information on housing and homeowners insurance as well.

East Greensboro resident Tanasha Hooks visited Peeler Recreation Center this week to get essential items for herself as well as her two children. Hooks said all the food in her refrigerator had to be thrown away after her home was without power for five days.

“It’s really been the community that has helped people the most,” said Hooks. “It’s slowly getting better, but a lot of people have children and we’re all worried about how to feed our families and rebuild our lives in the coming weeks.”

Gene Blackmon, owner of Prestige Barber College on Phillips Avenue and a Peeler Recreation disaster site organizer, estimated the center served about 500 people a day during the first week after the storm.

“A lot of people were messed up before this disaster. And this just put a strain on folks trying to survive,” said Blackmon, who added that he and volunteers are working on compiling a list of reputable attorneys, insurance agents and contractors for residents to utilize.

“We need businesses and homes rebuilt. But we also need to make sure our people are being taken care of properly, and that also means ensuring the city, county, state and federal governments are doing right by us as well,” said Blackmon.

Residents affected by tornado damage can also get food and hygiene supplies, and information on housing and insurance at the Willow Oaks Community Center, 1815 Everitt St., from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. The Greensboro Housing Coalition, City of Greensboro Neighborhood Development, the N.C. Department of Insurance, and the American Red Cross are all on hand at both disaster relief sites to assess housing needs of those impacted by the storm.

According to City of Greensboro officials, city crews have collected 1,900 tons of debris from the city’s Eastside in the first week of cleanup, but about 8,200 tons more of debris still remain. Yard waste and debris rules have been relaxed by the city, with extended hours for drop offs at the White Street Landfill.

City officials stated it is still unclear when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will announce whether Greensboro homeowners affected by the tornado qualify for federal assistance, which Interim City Manager David Parrish said could take weeks. Disaster sites have asked that people continue to donate non-perishable food items, hygiene products, including adult diapers, pet food and tarps to cover damaged property and damaged homes that have not been repaired yet.

City officials say the biggest need now is for financial donations to stabilize and rehouse families. Financial contributions may be made to The United Way of Greater Greensboro, where funds have been redirected to the Greensboro Housing Coalition for immediate housing efforts. City officials report that an estimated 250 people are in need of immediate rehousing.

District 2 Council member Goldie Wells said she was thankful for the outpouring of compassion from people across the city and she hopes it will continue so the people affected can regain their footing and stabilize their lives.

“We experienced a lot of devastation. Don’t forget about this community. It’s going to take longer than weeks or months. It may take years for some people to get back on their feet,” said Wells.