04/19/11 — Tornado aftermath: Greene County battles back

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Tornado aftermath: Greene County battles back

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 19, 2011 1:46 PM

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The remains of Greene County Middle School near Snow Hill are seen this morning. The school was crushed Saturday evening by a tornado that also ripped a roof off the gym at neighboring Greene Central High School. Officials have closed all of the county's schools this week and next week is spring break, so they hope to have a plan in place to keep classes on schedule by the time students report back in May.

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A home along U.S. 13 in Greene County shows the damage inflicted by Saturday's storms, which destroyed dozens of homes, along with several business, in the county.

SNOW HILL -- A community that had been looking forward to groundbreaking ceremonies this Thursday for a new intermediate school is now faced with the daunting task of rebuilding a school destroyed by a tornado that left an estimated $29 million in damages.

Greene County was declared a disaster area by Gov. Beverly Perdue on Sunday, a day after storms ripped through the county, destroying at least 40 homes, damaging Greene Central High School, and completely destroying Greene County Middle School.

Weather officials have said the tornado that did the damage packed winds that could have reached more than 166 miles per hour.

The storm struck around 5:45 p.m. Saturday as a line of powerful, tornado-producing storms swept across central and eastern North Carolina.

"We did not have any fatalities and when you look at the damage done that is amazing in itself," Greene County Manager Don Davenport said today of his-tornado ravaged county. "I was home in Snow Hill in the closet bundled up with my wife, listening to the radio and trying to figure out what to do."

The preliminary figure of $29 million does not include any forestry-related losses, Davenport added. Large swatches of timberland were also destroyed by the high winds.

Gov. Perdue has said she will seek federal help for the areas across the state hurt by the storms.

"We have not received a federal declaration yet," Davenport said. " I understand that a letter has been sent to the president and that (the declaration) is expected no later than Thursday."

Greene and Snow Hill officials were out as soon as the storms had passed, surveying the damages.

The storm demolished the middle school, damaged and/or destroyed 10 businesses and 120 homes, Davenport said.

There were no reported fatalities, but 10 people were injured, including one who was in critical condition, he said. Davenport said he was not in the area in 1984 when a tornado outbreak in the eastern part of the state claimed the lives of several people in Greene County.

Saturday's storm appears to have traveled along near N.C. 91 toward Greene Central High School. The high school gym's roof was damaged, but the classroom buildings were spared. Davenport said it appeared the storm had "jumped" the high school and "hammered" the middle school. From there it appears to have "picked up speed," damaging houses near the school, he said.

The middle school appears to be a total loss. The material in the building isn't just broken, it is twisted, Davenport said.

Classes in all the county's public schools have been canceled for the week. Efforts are under way to determine what can be salvaged from the wreckage.

"I think the schools have worked out a plan," Davenport said. "There is no school this week and next week is spring break, so they have a couple of weeks to look at things."

The middle school houses about 700 students. Davenport said he understands that sixth-grade students will be moved to the nearby elementary school and the seventh- and eighth-grade students will move to the high school.

"That is a lot of people, but we will just have to suck it up and make room," he said.

The county could also seek a waiver from the state so that the missed school days would be excused from the mandatory 180 school days.

There also have been discussion about bringing in temporary mobile units, he said.

The new intermediate school for the fourth and fifth grades will be built on land near the destroyed middle school and is scheduled to be ready by the 2012 school year, he said.

The construction company mobile home that was on the construction site was blown away by the storm.

Greene County has now moved from disaster mode to recovery mode, Davenport said. Most of the state officials who have surveyed the county have left. In their place are volunteers from the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Mormon churches. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are in the county as well.

An interfaith group that was organized following severe flooding in the area several years ago is acting as the coordinating agency, Davenport said. It already has set up a clothes bank at the old fire station on Second Street in Snow Hill.

People interested in volunteering or making donations should contact Dora Pasour, the interfaith group director, at 1-252-747-1090.

Davenport praised local fire and rescue volunteers for their help in the recovery efforts.

A shelter was opened and 15 people spent the night there Saturday. However, no one used the shelter after that, and it has now closed, he said.

Meanwhile, in Wayne County, a tornado that began Saturday evening near Parkstown continued into Greene and Lenoir counties, National Weather Service officials said.

No evidence was found of tornadoes at Mar-Mac, Goldsboro and Patetown, officials said. However, there was minor straight wind damage noted along New Hope Road.

The tornado near Parkstown began just east of North Beston Road between Guy Smith and Old Jason roads, where mostly minor siding and shingle damage and some tree damage were reported. At that point, the tornado was estimated to be carrying winds at about 80 miles per hour before strengthening to as much as 136 miles per hour.