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Bayerische Motoren Werke Preference : Greensboro picks up pieces after tornado Greensboro picks up pieces after devastating tornado

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04/17/2018 | 09:48am CEST

GREENSBORO - Dozens of homes and businesses destroyed or severely damaged.

Children turned away from school.

Retailers shut down.

Electricity cut off to 21,000 customers.


That's how many in Greensboro felt after a tornado or tornadoes - officials aren't sure which - struck the eastern part of the city Sunday afternoon.

By today, hundreds of people will flood those neighborhoods, working to repair the damage, street by street, tree by tree, powerline by powerline, person by person.

Today begins an all-out effort to bring a four-mile swath of eastern Greensboro back to life after the storm left one man dead and two others injured.

"Recovery will be a marathon, not a sprint," said Don Campbell, the director of Guilford County Emergency Management.

The devastation was all too clear in the sunlight the day after.

"It really looks like a war zone," Mayor Nancy Vaughan said. "Today everyone is grateful to be alive, as we're grateful for them to be alive."

Around 2:30 p.m. Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper, Vaughan and other city and county officials hopped on a shuttle to tour a hard-hit neighborhood south of McConnell Road.

Block after block, the scene repeated.

On Avalon Road, Moody Street, Ardmore Drive - big oaks leaning into homes, windows boarded with plywood, roofs resting in yards.

Dozens of residents already were out and about - they had no power inside - as Cooper shook hands and promised help from the state.

As she stepped over downed powerlines and limbs on Douglas Street, Vaughan worried aloud that well-meaning volunteers might take it upon themselves to clean the debris. That's why the city is coordinating the cleanup.

City Manager Jim Westmoreland said 20 homes and businesses were destroyed, 80 were severely damaged and 320 were affected - and that's only in the 60 percent of the damage zone officials were able to assess Monday. The numbers are sure to grow.

What remains the same is that one person died and two were injured when a tree fell on their vehicles - the only fatality and injuries reported.

Greensboro police said Anthony George, 48, of Greensboro was killed at 5:46 p.m. Sunday when a tree fell on his moving BMW at East Cone Boulevard and Ceasar Street.

Two other people were injured in the same incident: Renee George, 49, a passenger in the BMW, and Becky Combs, 48, of Liberty, who was driving a Dodge Avenger that was hit by the same tree. Neither woman suffered life-threatening injuries.

The National Weather Service in Raleigh has determined that at least one tornado hit the Greensboro area Sunday evening.

"We did have radar indications that it was a tornado that went through," meteorologist Gail Hartfield said.

It's unclear whether the damage was caused by one tornado that "skipped" and touched down in two places or two separate twisters.

Pauline Mack, 78, has lived at 1609 Lansdown Ave. since she was 18. She was out to dinner when the storm hit.

"We parked on (nearby) Willow Road," Mack said. "My neighbor met me down the street and said, 'Pauline, I want to warn you: Your house is gone.' "

As she got closer, she saw a mattress where the second story of her house should have been.

Nearby, Fazeka Brown of East Florida Street was telling a neighbor how she and her four children took refuge in a bathtub.

"It started raining and I heard, like a freight train," Brown said. "It sounded like six horns coming down the street."

Outside, it looked like a bomb had gone off in her yard.

"All this stuff that's in her yard," said Brown, pointing to a bench and other debris, "was in my yard yesterday."

It's going to take roughly 1,000 workers to restore power.

Davis Montgomery, Duke Energy's district manager, said the damage was far more extensive than a few downed powerlines.

According to Montgomery, 13 substations were hit by the storm and five of those led to 90 percent of the power outages.

"Safety is the No. 1 issue to deal with," Montgomery said at a news conference. "You don't know what you're walking into. A line could be energized several feet away, so you need to be very, very careful."

The work is so complex that Montgomery declined to estimate how long it will be until Duke Energy can restore all the power.

For people who face the prospect of power outages for days to come, variable weather could pose a challenge.

Low temperatures in the 30s Monday morning were a springtime shock to people without access to heat. And on Wednesday, temperatures will hit around 80 degrees.

Power outages affected businesses large and small.

Three properties belonging to Cone Health were hit, but only one remained closed Monday, spokesman Doug Allred said.

The storm knocked out power to an Arnold Street warehouse where Cone Health stores medical supplies. Allred said that electrical service was restored before a generator could be installed.

Businesses along Bessemer Avenue were either closed or struggling to accommodate customers in the aftermath of the storm.

Andrew Davis, a sales associate at Fashion Avenue at Summit Shopping Center, said he was getting ready to close the store around 5:30 p.m. Sunday when the power went out.

On Monday, he and store manager K.S. Bassi stood in the dark looking out at an empty parking lot.

Across Bessemer Avenue at Northeast Shopping Center, Patti Chambers of H&R Block ate lunch while waiting in a darkened office to direct clients to other locations.

"It's bad to lose power the day before tax season ends and you work in a tax office," Chambers said. "We're doing the best we can."

Relief agencies responded quickly, offering food, shelter and support.

Half an hour before Mount Zion Baptist Church opened its doors for lunch on Monday, a woman wondered aloud if she was in the right place.

"I've got to take care of my babies," she said, pulling on a hooded sweatshirt.

With classes cancelled for 73,000 Guilford County Schools students, the district helped arrange 10 sites for children to pick up a meal on a day they might otherwise go hungry.

"Hunger is a significant issue in the communities that were most impacted by the storm," spokesperson Tina Firesheets said.

Mount Zion pastor Bryan Pierce was happy to open the church's doors.

"It's good when we all come together," he said. "Together we're better, we're stronger. What you're seeing now, it started 12 hours ago."

It soon became apparent the response was bigger than expected, and volunteers quickly packed up the tables to move to a larger area in the church.

There, more than a hundred workers quickly lined up the tables in a horseshoe and distributed the smorgasbord of food that never seemed to stop flowing. Fast food sat alongside bagged sandwiches, fruits, a variety of chips and juices.

For every family that walked in, another round of volunteers warmed up the lobby with laughter in what felt more like a celebration of humanity than a solemn occasion.

As the flow of hungry children began to slow, volunteers began packing the church's vans and arranging carpools around the city, knocking on doors and looking for those who might be unable to go in search of help.

"It's encouraging to know that when things like this happen, when tragedies like this happen, individuals can come together," Pierce said.

Richard M. Barron is a reporter for the Greensboro News & Record. Contact him at richard.barron@greensboro.com or 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

© © Copyright 2018, Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, NC, source Newspapers

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