Saturday, April 16th, will go down in North Carolina history—at least in meteorological history. It marked the worst tornado outbreak in over 30 years, leading to many deaths across our Tar Heel state. StarNews cited the storm system, which swept across six states, killed a total of 45 people. North Carolina was the hardest hit, as the occurrence affected areas from Winston-Salem all the way to the Outer Banks. For me, a resident of Onslow County, the terror began at 8 p.m.
My husband and I were glued to our TV sets. Around 8:15 p.m. our power went out, the heavy rain started and the wind picked up forcefully. Immediately, we bolted to our guest bathroom located within the inner belly of our one-story ranch. Before we reached the door, our lights powered back on. Thankfully, we never heard the infamous freight train. However, families less than 10 miles away on Camp Lejuene and Piney Green were not so lucky.
The National Weather Service announced the path of damage the tornadoes created in Onslow County covered almost four miles in four locations around Jacksonville before moving into Craven County. The initial damage occurred in the Tarawa Terrace I, the junior enlisted housing area of Camp Lejeune where the average military family is only 22 years old. Rated an EF2, its path width was 100 yards. The tornado crossed N.C. 24 into the Holiday City Mobile Home Community before moving northeast to the Colonial Heights and Montclair subdivisions of Piney Green Road. In the Montclair subdivision, the tornado caused the greatest amount of damage; wind speeds intensified to 145 mph—an EF3 rating.
By 8:45 the warnings were gone and so, too, was the storm front that began in Oklahoma. True, the aftermath was and still is beyond belief: Roofs were blown entirely off, brand new two-story base-housing duplexes were left with only one floor, and in one cul-de-sac cars were stacked on top of one another like toys in a bin. Overall, about 150 homes in Tarawa Terrace I and II were affected, and between 40 and 60 of them suffered heavy structural damage of some kind. At least 10 were totally destroyed.
Outside his demolished home on Piney Green, Elvin Capestany, retired USMC MSgt., recounted his story for encore. “There was no cover I could take,” he said. “I heard the roof crash in the living room. Inside the house, it felt like something was pulling on it. Then, a window burst, and it felt like pepper spray hitting my face.”
A crane gathered debris near us.
“All our cars are totaled,” he noted. “Today is the first day I could change clothes. My uniform was found three blocks down the street. It still had my name tape on it. Now, we just pick up the pieces. I guess it’s got its positives. No need to do spring cleaning.”
Just days after our First Lady spoke about Camp Lejuene ranking eastern North Carolina a model for community support, residents are living up to Obama’s words and rallying together to put the pieces back. Dixie Lanier, marketing manager with The Marine Corps and Atlantic Marine Corps Communities (AMCC), a privatized community that builds and manages property for military families, staffed at Tarawa Terrace II, states more needs to be done.
“I can tell you, being here and seeing the devastation, everyone has really pulled together,” she says. “I can’t speak highly enough of the USO, The Marine Corps or the Department of the Navy. Right now we’re tarping houses, boarding windows and assessing what needs to be demolished or fixed.”
Currently, the AMCC has two large tents set up and filled with donated clothing. “We’d like to tell people that while we don’t need any more clothing, we do need diapers, wipes, water and nonperishable foods,” Lanier says. She also holds out hope that every military family affected by the tornadoes will be in a new, permanent home by May 3rd. Some already have keys, even.
With an identified 25 tornadoes that touched down, the National Weather Service stated there’s an estimated 800 homes that are damaged or completely destroyed. The cost to rebuild is more than $9 million. Jonathan Popkin, spokesperson for Furniture Fair in Jacksonville, New Bern, Kinston, Goldsboro, Greenville and Morehead City, wants residents affected to know their family business of 57 years is ready to help. As victims of the tornado fight to rebuild, Popkin aims to help take stress away from struggling families by providing mattresses and box springs.
“We take care of everyone the best we can,” he says. “Every dollar one contributes will go directly toward getting a family something they need. We’ve already donated children’s beds, bedding, and sofas and worked with a few local schools. We are trying to make sure everyone has at least something when it comes to their immediate needs. Here, in Jacksonville, everyone is everyone’s neighbor—and the retired military that built their life here give back to the next generation that follows. It’s how everyone thrives.”
To assist families with Furniture Fair call, Katie Winn at (910) 455-4044 ex. 244. Or to provide aid needed by the AMCC and the USO, call the AMCC at (910) 219-6440.