08/12/07 — Days Inn among hardest hit

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Days Inn among hardest hit

By Lee Williams
Published in News on August 12, 2007 2:01 AM

Four people were taken to the hospital Friday after a windstorm leveled the roof at Days Inn on Wayne Memorial Drive, forcing an estimated 70 to 100 people to scramble from the 35-year-old structure.

A line of storms accompanied by hail and strong wind moved through Wayne County at about 6:30 p.m., snapping trees and power lines, leaving thousands without power, and prompting some to seek temporary shelter.

Brenda Horne, a hotel clerk at Days Inn, was helping a guest when the storm hit -- literally -- without warning.

"The only thing I heard is the transformer blew, the lights went out and the guest that I was checking in said 'Your roof is in the parking lot,'" Ms. Horne said.

Ms. Horne and a co-worker, Miranda Lovelace, manned a make-shift check-in counter in the hotel parking lot Saturday.

Instead of picking up room keys, guests were escorted to their room to retrieve personal items left during the storm -- but only when it was safe to do so.

Don Johnson, operations manager at Days Inn, said refunds will be given to customers who were forced to find other places to stay after the storm hit.

"All of the people will be reimbursed, but it's just going to take a few days because the computers are down," Johnson said as work crews swarmed the roof and hotel parking lot picking up fallen debris.

While damage estimates are still being calculated, the Days Inn was among the hardest hit, officials said.

Wayne County Fire Marshal Brian Taylor, who came out to assist the city fire and police departments after the storm Friday night, said he was stunned by the damage.

"It's not uncommon for storms to leave some roof damage, trees down and power lines down," Taylor said. "But nothing to this magnitude."

Ester Best, 53, of Paterson, N.J., and a busload of church friends and family were just stopping in Goldsboro for the night.

The bus was headed for Wallace to attend a church event at Greater Faith Tabernacle.

But she hopes she never sees another storm like the one that struck just above her hotel room Friday.

Mrs. Best, her daughter and her 1-year-old grandson, had just settled into Room 220 when the storm struck the roof.

"We were so scared, and the baby was crying," she said.

Unsure of what to do, Mrs. Best said they didn't move.

They waited for a little while, and then rushed for the door.

They were met by hotel staff, who urged them to go back inside. But when the time was right, the hotel staff led them to safety, Mrs. Best said. Due to the extensive damage to the roof of her hotel room, which was still draped with a black tarp, Mrs. Best was one of the last ones allowed in to retrieve her personal belongings.

But she didn't mind, she said.

She knows that is truly a "miracle" that she and all of her family came out unscathed.

"God looked out for us," she said. "He really did. Anything could have happened. It could have caved in on us because we didn't go to the tub. We were by the bed. It's unbelievable."

Sherry Capers, 39, of Paterson, N.J., said the only thing they lost was a couple boxes of cereal and some food they prepared to save money while on the road.

Mrs. Capers said when she gets to the church ceremony she will have a whole lot to shout about.

"We're going to be praising the Lord's name for all the miracles and for saving all of our lives," Mrs. Capers said.

Mrs. Capers said what struck her the most is that there were 54 people on her bus, but they all found a family to take them in for the night.

"We didn't have to go to the shelter," she said. "That was truly a blessing."

A member of her group used his bus to transport several displaced hotel guests to the temporary shelter, officials said.

Goldsboro Fire Chief Alvin Ward said the storm that struck Days Inn was a windstorm -- not a tornado. He called the damage left in the wake of the storm a "total loss."

"A couple of windstorms came through Goldsboro and raised the roof of this hotel," Ward said while standing near the hotel that had been converted into a disaster area.

Four people were transported to Wayne Memorial Hospital. Some of the injuries included a broken leg and/or scratches from fallen debris. Ward classified all of the injuries as "minor."

City building inspectors surveyed the damage and deemed the hotel unsafe due to the structural damage to the roof and walls.

Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra said the hotel was built 35 years ago and since the time of its construction, codes have been revised.

"At the time it was built, it was in a 90-mph wind zone," he said. "Now, we're in a 110-mph wind zone. If it was built from the present code, with the lessons we have learned from hurricanes and other events, it would not have been damaged like this."

Cianfarra estimates the building suffered at least $1 million in damages.

And if that figure exceeds 50 percent of the property's tax value, he will recommend demolition.

But Cianfarra remains baffled by the damage the storm caused.

"In my 25 years, I have never seen anything like it," Cianfarra said. "It's an odd thing, kind of weird really."

Damage to other portions of the city was also reported.

Fallen trees and tree limbs lay scattered across dozens of yards and draped across many power lines.

One tree fell through a home on Ninth and Jefferson streets and large trees damaged a home in the 1500 block of Mulberry Street.

Although several large red oaks trees fell in her yard, blocking her cars and the front entrance, Mrs. Mary Balfour Turner said she wasn't upset.

"Life happens," she said. "I hate the fact that the trees are gone because they are about 200 years old."

In any case, Mrs. Balfour Turner said she's fine and her two cats, Katie and Chester, who were shaken up as the storm passed through, are OK, too.

The effects of the storm were also felt in other areas including Wal-Mart, Holiday Inn Express, Country Inn & Suites and Captain D's.

Movie goers were forced to leave the movie theater early at Premiere Theaters on Norwood Avenue when the lights went out during the storm. The power was interrupted from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., officials said.

-- Staff writer Kenneth Fine contributed to this report.