Lee County turns out to help neighbors

Staff WriterApril 18, 2011 

— Residents of Lee County on Sunday reached out to their neighbors hurt by Saturday's devastating tornado, marshaling resources through their churches, emptying their pockets at a Red Cross fund drive and standing by outside a neighborhood ready to clear debris as soon as police would let them in.

"Most people have a good heart and want to help," said Emily Lewis, who was helping at a Red Cross collection site outside Lowes Foods in Sanford on Sunday afternoon. "They see what happened in Japan, and they want to help, but they don't really know how. This is so close to home, they can do something."

Two people had been confirmed dead in Lee County by Sunday afternoon. The storm injured dozens of others as it plowed through the south side of Sanford.

A steady stream of donors pulled up near the front door of the Lowes, jumped out to drop off donations - new blankets, cases of drinking water, paper towels and cleaning supplies, an inflatable mattress - got back in their cars and left. Others dropped money into a collection box.

"Probably 75 or 80 percent of the people coming to the store give something either on the way in or on the way out," said Ed Page, a local lawyer also helping at the folding-table collection site and greeting people he knew.

Churches get work

Churches throughout the county began working Saturday night to organize a response, from forming work crews to setting up relief funds. They collected designated offerings in their Sunday school classes and morning worship services.

"We've got men here waiting to work," said Wesley Thomas, pastor of Hunt Springs Baptist Church on St. Andrews Church Road, near a residential community that was hit hard Saturday. "They've been here all morning. There's nothing they can do right now because the security and safety and power crews are still in there working and nobody else can go in.

"When they're cleared, they'll go in and start clearing debris from people's roofs and covering them with tarps until the insurance companies can get there."

Meanwhile, Thomas and volunteers were cooking hot dogs in the church parking lot for emergency crews and area residents who, like the church itself, had no power as of Sunday afternoon.

"Right now we're just trying to provide encouragement and food and water," Thomas said.

Power was still out on Sunday in large areas of the city and county, including most of the gated community of Carolina Trace, south of town. Travel in the area was difficult because of road closings.

Gov. Bev Perdue, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers visited the area Sunday morning.

Mayor Cornelia Olive and city officials hope state and federal officials will provide long-term help for the community, including emergency financial aid for residents put out of work by the storm.

The tornado severely damaged much of the Southside Plaza shopping center, the Lowe's Home Improvement store and several buildings at Static Control Components, a company that produces parts and toner for remanufactured cartridges used in laser printers. Hundreds of employees could be affected. The county's unemployment rate was more than 12 percent in February.

martha.quillin@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8989

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