RALEIGH — Hey, wait a minute. How'd this happen?
Maize Lewis went to a wedding in Charlotte two Saturdays ago, yet she's the one stuck with a guest who won't leave her Raleigh home.
I reckon it's kind of hard to throw out an intruder who weighs a couple of tons.
The unwelcome guest is a huge oak tree that smashed through her home's roof when a tornado struck in her North King Charles Road neighborhood on April 16. "Luckily, I was out of town when it struck, or I would've been home alone."
Lewis doesn't drive, so her friend Elizabeth Clarkson was driving her to different sites Monday seeking help. Clarkson's home suffered no damage, although she lost about $100 worth of food when her power was knocked out by falling trees. "I hadn't bought groceries yet, thank goodness," Clarkson said when I talked to Lewis and her Monday at the Chavis Heights Community Center, where FEMA has set up to provide assistance to people harmed by the storms.
Clarkson was out of luck, though.FEMA isn't paying to replace lost victuals - "We're sending them to the state for that," said Jean Podruchny, manager of FEMA's disaster recovery center. Lewis said she was told, "It'll be about three weeks before we know if they can help us. ... We went to the Salvation Army, but they said they couldn't help us without a referral from the Red Cross. We've had some hurdles, and more hurdles. Now, how about some help?"
When I went to the recovery center, I braced myself for long lines and chaos. I was surprised to find neither.
Podruchny is surprised at the absence of lines, too. "There was a lot of devastation. Maybe people are still cleaning up," she explained. "I think the word has gotten out. I thought there'd be a long line when I got here this morning."
Since the office opened Friday, she said, officials have seen about 170 people.
Although there hasn't been the deluge for assistance that she anticipated, Podruchny said, "I feel we're going to start getting busier."
It's probably a good thing there hasn't been more of a crowd because Podruchny said it's better for people seeking help to phone first. "They need to call 800-621-3362 and register. An inspector comes out" and lets homeowners or renters know what assistance they're eligible for.
Unlike Lewis, whose home is uninhabitable because of the tree that dropped in, Jessie Williamson is able to live in her Pender Street home - "with prayer," she said.
A reverent petition to the Almighty is necessary because neither the insurance company nor FEMA will help her with a huge tree that was partially ripped from the ground.
She fears it may not be long before the tree falls and damages her house. It is hanging "directly over the center of the house" like some 50-foot Sword of Damocles ready to drop at any minute.
Williamson has called tree removal companies, she said, "but everybody wants $7,000 to take it down. I don't have $7,000."
So she and her family are staying in the house. "I'm keeping the faith," she said.
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