As we celebrate today with family and friends, we are very aware that so many in our community are still struggling to rebuild from the storm of April 16, 2011. We are especially thankful for the readers who contributed an overwhelming number of toys and books to the drive started by the Durham Mom you will read about below, and our friends at Notes from a Mom in Chapel Hill, the Stir Crazy Moms of Durham, and Tarheel Takeout, for helping to spread the word about that drive.
Today's post comes from Lynne, one of those who volunteered on the ground in Stonybrook.
East Coast weather isn’t known to spawn a large number of tornadoes. I used to watch the Midwest in awe and fear when tornadoes devastated entire towns. But my perspective changed April 16, 2011 when a series of tornadoes (at least 8, possibly more) tore across an area of NC that spanned hundreds of miles. Just in my state the tornadoes killed 23 people; the weather system was blamed for a total of 43 deaths across 7 states. This “family of tornadoes” were all part of one thunderstorm system that created new rotating updrafts in succession. Almost no warning, no sirens, no time to react.
On that Saturday afternoon, tornadoes had literally traveled all around my house (as close as 10 miles away). I felt that I was left undamaged but with a purpose. Like other concerned citizens, I watched and read everything I could online and on television. I was glued to social media and the Internet, every story pulling at my heartstrings to urge me – and others - to contribute. This is the long way of saying I became involved with Stony Brook North Mobile Home Park in Raleigh, NC.
Stony Brook was the site where three children (3, 8, and 9) were killed instantly when a tree fell on their mobile home, while they were huddled in a closet. A fourth child, a 6 month-old girl in her mother’s arms, died a few days later. Over half of the 200 homes were deemed unlivable, due in part to the large trees that made the area so quaint in happier times. The sad fact that so much devastation occurred in NC left relief organizations scampering to spread themselves over a huge area, and Stony Brook needed more help. Many residents did not speak enough English to navigate the FEMA paperwork or had no family nearby (in a state of shock after such an event, I doubt even I could decipher federal documents without assistance). In stepped volunteers mobilized with large trucks, manpower, and, most importantly, desire. I met many new people from different walks of life that day. I must mention their work because without it Stony Brook would still be floundering. What they did – and continue to do – is selfless and makes me proud to live in the Triangle. A list of the volunteer organizations I worked with is at the bottom, although it is not a complete list.
Volunteer champion and a fellow Durham Mothers Club member , Kim Johnson is featured here to explain how residents from Stony Brook received aid.
If you’re reading this blog (or have been funneled here through others), chances are you also identify with these events. First, I must back up and explain myself. I had the privilege to visit the Stony Brook site twice: once on Good Friday 6 days after the tornadoes and another almost 7 months later (early November). This part of the story starts it all. Friends have asked me what it was like. It is incredibly hard to describe. The images from my first visit: a soggy, rainy holiday in April, are forever burned into my mind. The makeshift tents formed a small shantytown to protect the donated clothes and the valuable computers used to log in residents’ damages. The smell of pine from on-site tree mulching was overwhelming. The scene was so horrific and depressing that I only took one picture. ONE. It was of a twisted, partially fallen tree. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph houses, or people, or the general scene. But I didn’t need a picture, because I knew I would never forget it. I felt it improper to be taking pictures when a fellow human’s possessions were in their front yards and the homes that were left had huge gashes, trees splintering the insides, and broken glass on the ground.
This YouTube video will show you a glimpse of the aftermath.
These groups were at Stony Brook solving problems and connecting families with resources all over the Triangle.
Centro Internacional de Raleigh (I will talk more about CIR and the great work they’re doing with over 100 families at Stony Brook in Part II).
The NC Baptist Men (includes women, too):
Multiple faith based groups
Countless interpreters from Wake County and private organizations
Countless other groups provided food and support so that the process of identification and support could move swiftly. I especially need to thank the Starbucks on Capital Blvd near Brentwood Rd who donated and gladly refilled huge containers of drinks and stuffed bags full of pastries for residents and volunteers. I feel horrible that I have not said “thank-you” until now. That day I felt that so many others were behind me, taking away the cold wind gusts and pelting rain while I tried to do my part.
Note: Part II of our story will continue next week with an update on Stony Brook now, plus a look at one family and how they are still putting the pieces back together after a series of hardships that began with the tornado.
any photos and names included were taken and printed with permission.
To help with ongoing efforts, please contact Centro Internacional de Raleigh.