07/24/14 — On the day a tornado hit home ...

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On the day a tornado hit home ...

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on July 24, 2014 1:46 PM

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Tammy Forrester will never forget the day a tornado ripped the roof off her home -- or the help she received from a Red Cross worker when she didn't know where to turn.

She was just 18 when a tornado hit Nash County, sending her and her younger brother seeking help from wherever they could find it. It turned out to be a Red Cross worker.

That experience 30 years ago helps Mrs. Forrester in her role today as chief executive officer of the Wayne, Lenoir and Greene County chapter of the American Red Cross.

Mrs. Forrester, 48, recalls that experience every time she goes out on a disaster call today.

It was in March 1984 and Mrs. Forrester was home watching her younger brother while their mother was at work. When she went outside to get him out of a wobbly tree before he hurt himself, the two started arguing.

"It was a bright and sunny day outside," she said. "Right in the middle of our argument, it got really still outside, no wind, no noise, no nothing. We both stopped arguing."

Mrs. Forrester looked all around her, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Still, she had an eerie feeling she just couldn't shake.

"I told my brother to get the dogs and get where the washing machine was," Mrs. Forrester said. "I headed back to turn the TV on, and I never made it to the TV.

"I heard all this noise. It didn't sound like a train to me. It just sounded like a big piece of equipment coming right in front of the house, bigger than normal, though."

About the time Mrs. Forrester realized just what it was, a tornado was already hitting her home.

"It took the roof off with me standing in the living room and my little brother in the washer room," Mrs. Forrester said. "I couldn't see that it had taken the roof off right away because there was so much dust and stuff that it was carrying around with it. It was raining in, too."

Living in the second house from the intersection, Mrs. Forrester could see all the emergency lights from her home. But she wasn't sure if she should take her little brother and leave the home or stay put. She finally decided to seek help where the lights were.

"We went out our front door and when we went to step down, there were no steps," Mrs. Forrester said. "It had peeled the steps right off the front porch, but the porch was still there."

At the intersection, where emergency vehicles had assembled, people were busy running here and there. Mrs. Forrester didn't know what to do.

Then a woman in a Red Cross vest came over to her.

"The first person who looked at my face and saw my eyes was that little lady," Mrs. Forrester said. "I don't know her name, but I'll never forget her face, and the fact that out of that sea of about 200 people, she was the first one whose eyes met mine."

The Red Cross volunteer came over to Mrs. Forrester and her little brother and put her arms around them, leading them to the volunteer fire department.

"I watched that lady for two hours comfort people and provide a safe place and peace of mind and a shoulder," Mrs. Forrester said. "She comforted people who were stressed, upset, hysterical, sick. And she was just as loving of those people like she knew them."

Mrs. Forrester said one thing that really struck her about the Red Cross volunteer was that she looked like she was looking for somebody to help.

"Somebody just like me," she said. "And she was. I know it now from having to do that myself. When we go into a disaster area, we go out to meet those faces, faces that look at mine the same way I looked at her 30 years ago. And I look at them the same way she looked at me."

Mrs. Forrester said back then, she didn't know she had her own Red Cross story.

"I was just somebody who lived in a neighborhood that a tornado hit," she said. "I didn't even think about it when I first started here at the Red Cross.

"But it's so hard for people to know somebody who doesn't have a Red Cross story. We touch so many lives."