Storm causes heavy damage in Johnston

Staff writerApril 18, 2011 

A string of apparent tornadoes hit Johnston County hard on Saturday, leaving dozens of people injured or homeless, mostly in the Micro area and in southern Johnston.

A line of strong storms raced up Interstate 95 around 4 p.m. Saturday, destroying homes, buildings and billboards and leaving thousands without power.

By Sunday afternoon though, help had arrived for many families in need. Micro was the county’s hardest-hit area, and more than 100 volunteers from Johnston churches and the N.C. Baptist Men were on the ground there. They helped families salvage belongings from the wreckage, passed out food and water and helped clear fallen trees. One group even set up a grill in the yard of a destroyed mobile home and passed out hot dogs. Local restaurants also brought in food.

Basic Needs Ministry in the Cleveland community announced Sunday that it was providing free clothing and household items to all area storm victims.

“We’re overwhelmed by the response we’ve got,” said Johnny Dixon, Micro’s fire chief and a town commissioner.

Much of Micro’s damage was in the Beulah at the Pines mobile home park north of town. According to the fire department, only eight of the 45 homes are liveable. Some were reduced to a pile of debris.

In downtown Micro, several homes and businesses were destroyed along Main Street. And at North Johnston High, the baseball and softball fields were damaged, their lights toppled and their dugouts reduced to a pile of broken cinderblocks. Near the school, on Watson Road, one home was blown off its foundation, while the storm moved another across the street.

On Saint Stephens Road just south of Micro, an apparent tornado destroyed about four mobile homes, snapping trees and shredding billboards as it crossed I-95. The tornado flipped a tractor-trailer rig truck on its side, blocking I-95 traffic for hours.

Craig Johnson lived in one of the mobile homes the tornado destroyed. He said when he heard the tornado warning, he rushed home to take his wife and kids to safety at a nearby truck stop. One of his neighbors, though, stayed in his home through the storm and suffered minor injuries, Johnson said.

After the storm, the Johnson family was combing through the wreckage, taking the valuables out of the home to avoid theft. A window from the Johnson home was thrown about 50 yards away, its glass somehow unbroken.

Johnson said he was going to spend Saturday night in his sister’s nearby home, but after that, he wasn’t sure. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I didn’t have no insurance.”

The tornado cut a narrow swath of damage through Saint Stephens Road and I-95. James Cole’s mobile home a hundred yards away was untouched. He stayed in his home and said the storm passed through in an instant.

“God looked out for us,” Cole said.

Despite the damage in Micro, everyone in town survived. Johnston Medical Center in Smithfield treated about 55 injured storm victims Saturday night, a hospital spokeswoman said.

And while Micro’s fire station served as a shelter, only two families stayed there, said Kym Dixon of the fire department. Other victims found shelter with family and friends – a testament to small-town neighbors helping one another.

“It’s a good thing the town is as close as we are,” Kym Dixon said.

Johnston County emergency-management crews on Sunday started assessing damage from Saturday’s storm, county spokesman Robin Gurgainus said. So far, they’ve found 42 buildings destroyed and 20 damaged around Micro. In southern Johnston – mostly around Benson and the Blackmon’s Crossroads community — county officials have found nine buildings destroyed and 21 damaged. The damage totals around $4.5 million. Gurgainus said he expects those numbers to increase as more damage is found.

Progress Energy is reporting that about 3,000 customers were still without power Sunday in northeastern Johnston County, including Micro and surrounding areas. Several hundred homes and businesses remained in the dark around Four Oaks on Sunday afternoon.

The National Weather Service in Raleigh received numerous reports of tornadoes along Interstate 95 in Johnston County from Benson to Micro, mostly between 4 and 5 p.m. Saturday. No reports had been confirmed by Sunday, but Weather Service officials said workers were in the field checking out the damage.

Johnston County declared a state of emergency Saturday night, and Gurgainus said crews will be out this week helping with debris removal.

And while the destroyed homes will likely be replaced, some scars from the storm will take longer to heal. Kym Dixon said she spoke with a young boy at the shelter Saturday night. He’d been in his family’s mobile home when the storm tore it apart, and he was having trouble sleeping.

The power at the fire station flickered, and the boy jumped, Kym Dixon said. He started asking her questions: Will the tornado come back tonight? Will it come back tomorrow? Will my house be fixed?

“It just broke my heart,” Kym Dixon said.

How to help

The American Red Cross is accepting food donations at North Johnston Middle School, 301 E. Main St., Micro. Micro First Baptist Church, 106 W. Wilson St., is also taking donations.

To make a monetary donation to the American Red Cross, go to triangleredcross.org or call the Smithfield office at 934-8481. The office is located at 801 S. 3rd St.

To donate to the N.C. Baptist Men, who have sent dozens of volunteers to Micro, go to baptistsonmission.org/Giving/Disaster-Relief or mail to P.O. Box 1107, Cary, N.C. 27512.

colin.campbell@nando.com or 919-836-5768

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