Tornadoes that swept through this city Nov. 28 left trails of destruction, killing at least four people and causing property damage exceeding $100 million.
Devastating as the tornadoes were, however, they also churned up a wellspring of compassionate service of inestimable worth, rendered by Latter-day Saints who rallied to help fellow Church members, neighbors and, in many cases, people who were strangers before the storm.Pres. Sterling B. Weed of the Raleigh North Carolina Stake told the Church News no members were seriously injured. Homes of four LDS families were destroyed, and at least 10 homes of other members were damaged to the extent the families had to be evacuated. Numerous homes of other LDS families sustained damage such as loosened roof shingles and broken windows. Most members whose homes were damaged live in the Raleigh 1st, 2nd and 4th wards.
"The tornado hit without any advance warning," said Pres. Weed. "Usually, there is a tornado watch or an official warning, but the tornado that hit our area formed directly overhead and was on us before anyone could give a warning."
A 10-second warning was all that Julie Howington of the Raleigh 2nd Ward had before she knew what was happening. She had stayed up late Sunday night, and was reading about 1:15 a.m. Monday, Nov. 28, when she heard what she described as a "whooshing" sound. A power failure forced her and her husband, Cy, to grope in the dark as they tried to reach their children. With only seconds to spare, Cy Howington pulled 11-year-old Janelle from her bed before a tree crashed through the window, sending glass shards into the mattress.
The family took refuge in the basement of their home. "We realized just how little our material possessions meant to us as we huddled together in the dark basement," Sister Howington said. "We were all safe, and that was all that mattered."
After the storm, the family went outside. "We saw that many of our neighbors' homes were completely gone," said Sister Howington. "We were so blessed - ours still stood. The cul-de-sac behind our home had one remaining house; all the others were destroyed." In front of the Howingtons' home was an entire side of a house that had been blown apart.
Within minutes, the Howingtons' home teacher, Terry Keaton, arrived. Keaton, who lives down the street from the Howingtons, had been awakened as the tornado flung him against a bedroom wall. His own home had received a lot of damage, but he immediately went to check on his home teaching families.
By 2 a.m., Steve Zundel, the elders quorum president, arrived to check on the Howingtons.
Church members throughout the stake moved into action quickly. Pres. Weed said, "By 3 a.m. - less than two hours after the tornado hit - we had a pretty good feel on what had happened. Home teachers and visiting teachers had located families whose homes were damaged or destroyed and were already in the process of evacuating members from perilous situations and salvaging whatever was possible."
Charles and Sharon Stoddard of the Raleigh 1st Ward tried to cope with their sad predicament by using humor. Their entire home was "open" with only one bedroom remaining intact. As Church members arrived to help, they were welcomed by the Stoddards to an "open house."
In the remaining bedroom, Stoddard had thrown himself on top of his 15-year-old son, Chris, to protect him from the exploding windows and walls that were being torn off and flung into the night. During the storm, Sister Stoddard clung to a stairway banister, watching her home being ripped apart and its furniture and walls swished away.
Donald and Jan Gilreath, also members of the Raleigh 1st Ward, were awakened by the "giant train noise" of the tornado descending upon their home. Gilreath took their 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter to a downstairs closet for protection. Sister Gilreath, with their 6-month-old daughter in her arms, was headed for the closet when the wind caught her and began to carry her away. Gilreath, anchoring himself to the door frame, reached out from the closet and held onto his wife with all his strength. Winning the battle, he pulled her and the baby into the closet, and held onto the door to keep it closed so the wind would not suck away his family.
The Gilreath's home was destroyed, and all the Christmas items the couple had purchased and stored in their attic were blown away. The family had no insurance on the home, but they expressed gratitude they were all safe, saying they felt fortunate no one was hurt in their home. A little boy in the home next to them was killed, and another neighbor's 10-month baby was ripped from the mother's arms and deposited just two feet from the edge of a lake, where searchers found the baby - frightened but safe - about two hours later.
The walls and roof of another neighbor's home were blown away as the neighbor couple lay asleep. Winds picked up their mattress and flung it, with the couple still on it, into the yard across the street.
Members not only in Raleigh but also in other stakes offered help, resources, equipment and financial aid to those whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Church members organized into work crews to remove trees and debris from yards and to sort through damaged possessions, trying to salvage whatever was possible. Members opened their homes to those left homeless or temporarily without shelter, and meals were cooked and delivered to victims and volunteer workers.
Officials estimate that clean-up work will go on for weeks.
LDS volunteers have cleaned up not only the yards of fellow Church members, but have also crossed property lines to help neighbors of Church members and other victims who telephoned requesting help. Many homes in Raleigh had a dozen or more trees in their yards, a great number of which were uprooted or broken. While some tree removal enterprises have charged $100 to $300 per tree to clear yards, LDS volunteers have done the work free of charge, prompting many people to ask about "all these kind people" who have arrived with chain saws to clear lawns, driveways and streets.
In addition to workers from elders quorums, high priests groups and the Relief Society, volunteers have stepped forward from the Young Men and Young Women organizations, and some older Primary children have helped with some of the clean-up efforts. On preparation days, missionaries have joined the work crews.
Emotions were close to the surface Sunday, Dec. 5, as members gathered for testimony meetings in their Raleigh wards. Members here had seen the gospel in action as a spirit of love enveloped their storm-tossed homes and a balm of comfort through true fellowship soothed hearts, minds and souls during some very troubled times. Most of all, lives had been spared.