One of last month’s 28 tornadoes cut a mile-long swath of destruction through Camp Lejeune’s Tarawa Terrace, a neighborhood that provides on-base housing to more than 1,500 marines and family members. Overall, the storm displaced 52 residents and damaged 250 buildings. Jeff Williams, the Development manager for Atlantic Marine Corps Communities, says the range of devastation spans from missing siding to a vanished second story.
A month after the storms came and went; a chorus of hammers, chainsaws and bulldozers is the sonic backdrop to life on the terrace.
“The most severe damage is a completely demolished home that will have to be removed to the slab and then rebuilt.”
After all residents were accounted for, the next step was temporary housing. The biggest challenge was determining which houses were suitable for power and re-entry.
“Could we light them back up? Then it was, now that they’re lit back up, can we even walk inside of them?”
Fifty paces from a home that sustained a few bent shingles sits a pile of wreckage, a total loss. Williams says 13 homes and 5 buildings are slated for demolition.
“This building has a tree in its living room. It’s hard to look at.”
Williams says a community center was set up as an aid station the day after the storm, and the first visitors weren’t looking for assistance, they wanted to help clear debris or make donations.
“The one thing we saw more than anything, coming through the front door, was people saying, ‘How can I help?’ I didn’t hear one marine or spouse bellyache about their problem.”
Shopping carts filled with teddy bears, blankets and diapers rolled in, filling two rooms at the aid station. Williams says the base wasn’t prepared for the storm or the show of community support. Across the state, relief took many forms, including the establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Tornado Damage Response.
Sen. Louis Pate of Mount Olive chairs that committee, and he says the storms came just as the state senate is working to get the budget approved by July 1st.
“This by no means takes second place, but we are having to meet around the scheduled budget hearings and so we’re playing catch as catch can right now.”
People in 19 counties can apply for federal assistance for damage and loss resulting from the storms. Federal and state disaster assistance grants and loans add up to nearly $9 million. Pate says across North Carolina the catastrophe could have been worse. A middle school in Greene County—north of Jacksonville—fell in the path of a tornado. Luckily, the storms came on a Saturday.
“We can only imagine how devastating it would have been had school been in session.”
Statewide, storms kicked up 28 tornadoes and took 24 lives, the most since 1984 when 22 twisters killed 42 people. Amidst the broken houses and twisted landscape, Jeff Williams says he was encouraged that the whirlwinds missed the neighborhood’s tallest structure, a red and white checkered water tower. It was the first landmark he looked for after the storm.
“The morning the sun came up we were all like (gasp) Thank goodness, because if that would have fallen down, it would have been a whole different story.”
In the shadow of the tower a gentle breeze brushes through the terrace. It’s quiet for a moment. Jeff stands beside a young tree with fractured limbs and wind-chewed leaves, a clutch of insulation stuck in its branches. Within a stone’s throw the trunk of a pine has pierced the wall of a second story bedroom. A month after the storms, there is still work to be done, but it has all fantailed into the larger mission now.