08/12/07 — Families displaced after storm hit

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Families displaced after storm hit

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 12, 2007 2:01 AM

Gerald Wesley of Rocky Mount has worked hard over the past year to put a roof over his family's head.

After getting hurt and losing his job, he and wife, Tangie, made their way to Goldsboro with their four young children, taking up temporary residence at the Days Inn.

Friday night's torrential storm took care of that, ripping the roof from the building in a matter of minutes, displacing Wesley and others who called the motel home.

Scrambling to accommodate the storm victims, the Red Cross set up a shelter at Goldsboro Intermediate School -- half of which had also lost power in the storm.

Watching his children -- ages 5, 6, 7 and 8 -- attempting to adapt to their new surroundings, Wesley recalled the moment when the weather turned from calm to dangerous.

"The kids were playing outside. It started sprinkling, so we brought them in," he said. "Then it was like a complete white-out, the wind was blowing, it was hailing pretty good."

He ushered the children into the bathroom of their first-floor room and shut the door, uncertain whether they would all be safer inside or out, he said. In a flash, the rain picked up and there was thunder and lightning and a sound he only later confirmed.

"We heard the roof fly off," he said. "We didn't realize the roof was off, though, until we walked around. It was right serious with all the soffit and siding and pieces of 2-by-4s flying by -- we didn't know from where. We tried to close the curtains as much as possible and still see, but didn't want to get hit by it."

Two storms passed after the initial blast, he said.

When the storm seemed to subside, the family ventured outside, where Wesley said, "200 people were standing in the Waffle House -- it was blazing hot inside. We were outside two hours afterwards."

Not allowed back inside the motel rooms, word began to spread about the shelter. To a homeowner, that would be respite, but for the people who called the motel home, it brought a pang of fear of what might be next.

"I was living at the Days Inn. All my money was tied up in that room because I paid weekly," said Andria Duffey.

"Me, too," Wesley said. "With four kids, it's kind of hard. We're just looking for a place we can afford."

Ms. Duffey said she had just recently started a job and felt it could be a turning point for her and her children, ages 16 and 18.

"I have worked seven days this week, did a 12-hour day (Friday), and we were going to take my paycheck to get a place for me and my kids," she said.

She was at work when the storm broke out, while her children were in the hotel room waiting for a church bus.

"The church bus had pulled up and (my children) called me and said something was happening, but I told them to get on the church bus," she said.

So, while she appreciated a safe place to wait, Ms. Duffey wasn't sure what to expect next.

"For the rest of us that were living there, that leaves us homeless," she said. "When we asked for our refunds, they said it would take a couple days, but I don't have a couple days. Me and my kids can't sleep outside a couple days."

Nebraska Rogers, 95, who lived in the 700 block of Claiborne Street, also felt the effects of Friday's treacherous storm. Ms. Rogers and her neighbor, Edna Thompson, were driven out of their home after the storm knocked down trees and downed power lines.

Ms. Rogers, who relies on a walker to get around, and Ms. Thompson, who depends on an oxygen tank, came to the shelter, sort of reluctuantly.

"The doctors told us to come here to be safe," Ms. Rogers said as she sat on her cot Friday night wrapped in a blanket. "I hated to leave home, but the storm came and blew the lights off. I saw people running down the street to get inside."

Fontaine Swinson, shelter manager, worked with her staff to set up cots and blankets for the guests, while Durwood Bostic, who handles logistics for the Red Cross, made a run to a grocery store for snacks and supplies.

Ms. Swinson said she was given 15 minutes notice to set up the shelter and "people were already here when I arrived." A nurse was on site, as were police, and school officials also provided assistance.

Ken Derksen, public information officer for Wayne County Public Schools, said it wasn't until later that officials discovered electricity could have been a problem at the shelter as well.

"Half the power was out at Goldsboro Intermediate," he said. "We're fortunate the power lines behind the school run the other half of the school, the air conditioning and the cafeteria."

Overnight accommodations turned out to be unnecessary, however. The shelter was closed around 11:30 p.m.

"Days Inn came in and took care of their people," said Teresa Williams, disaster services director for the Red Cross. Occupants were transferred to another location for the night, she said.

Among them were two workers from Rochester, N.Y., living at the hotel less than a month while working on the new Wal-Mart in Rosewood.

Norman Tirado watched the storm from the Days Inn lobby. Joe Delgado's vantage point was Room 115.

"I was in my room. I heard this loud, loud whistling. I opened the drapes and rain was like sideways," Delgado said. "I went outside, saw the Coke machine and Pepsi machine going sideways. The wind was coming like a tunnel, the Coke machine was coming away from the wall."

Seeing a wave of debris swirling around outside, Delgado considered moving the brand new $35,000 truck he bought two months ago, but there was no time.

"I saw the roof come down right on my truck, like paper. I cannot describe how strong the wind was. It was incredible, the force of the wind," he said. "An experience like that, it makes you think, nature is a powerful thing."

But at least no one was hurt, said Delgado, thankful his family was in New York and out of harm's way.

Wesley, though near his family, said he now struggles with what his next move will be.

"I was getting ready to start a job. We're kind of in-between now. I just really need this guy to hire me," he said. "School's starting soon. I need a job, a place to live.

"Could I give you my cell phone number? It's 919-760-5892. It's a prepaid phone. I don't have any minutes on it but I can get back to them -- anyone wanting to help us with a security deposit, first month's rent or a job or getting my kids into school."

-- Staff writer Lee Williams contributed to this report.