Recovery

Slow Recovery: Where Do Things Stand One Month After Tornado?

It’s been one month since April 15, the day that a tornado ripped through East Greensboro, part of a larger storm system that also damaged parts of other communities in North Carolina and Virginia.

by Jessie Pounds, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. / May 16, 2018

(TNS) - During the day, Angelena Gill is back at her job, with as many responsibilities as ever. The new clothes she’s bought for work are on point.

But the holes torn in her life 30 days ago are still there — the breach in the house she had rented, the gap in her finances and the chasm between how she would have guessed these weeks would go and the realities.

It’s been one month since April 15, the day that a tornado ripped through East Greensboro, part of a larger storm system that also damaged parts of other communities in North Carolina and Virginia.

There are now some new dollar figures to help provide context to the destruction in Guilford County: an estimated $48 million in total damages, with $30 million of that in damage to homes. That’s according to Greensboro Neighborhood Development Director Stan Wilson, who provided information from the county.

He said that the Greensboro Housing Coalition is working with 135 households in need of housing services of various kinds, and five families have been re-homed in connection with those efforts.

Last week U.S. President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration for North Carolina. That frees up a range of federal grants and loans for homeowners, renters, businesses and others. FEMA agents were out in the communities knocking on doors and talking to people on Monday. Gill was one of those who spoke with the FEMA agents.

Three schools significantly damaged by the tornado were back in classes a week after the storm hit, although in new locations for the rest of the school year, doubled up with other schools that had space available. School leaders expect insurance to pay for the damages, but the schools haven’t announced yet whether they’ll be back at the old buildings when school starts again in August.

There’s a lot still up in the air for families like Gill’s too. The big oak that crashed through their place during the tornado made their old home unlivable, so for now Gill and her husband are staying in a mini-apartment-type-space at the Salvation Army. If all goes well, she hopes to be able to sign an agreement to rent a new a place in Greensboro sometime this week. That quest to find a place to rent has taken up pretty much all of their time outside of work, she said.

Gill said she hasn’t had any help paying to secure new permanent housing. That’s coming out of pocket. She paid for the new clothes she needed for her job herself, too.

In the early days following the tornado, she said, she went online, looked in the news and talked to people she knew, looking for what to do to get help. It was disappointing, she said, how much easier it felt to find announcements about where to give donations than about where to get the aid.

Eventually, she did get connected to the coalition of local government and nonprofit agencies doing tornado relief, but a lot of the help they were offering was mismatched to the particulars of her situation. Some things will be more helpful down the road, such as the furniture voucher she got. She took another voucher to shop at the Salvation Army store, but couldn’t find any of the types of clothing she was looking for in her size, though she did find a good pair of white sandals among the items donated just for tornado victims.

Gill has said she’s grateful to be alive and privileged to have a job and a car and no young children to care for during all of this. She’s more worried about others in her community: If it’s been this hard for her, she’s wondering how people with less resources will be able to put a new life together.

Susan Smith, senior disaster program manager for the Red Cross, said the two busiest periods for the agency were the immediate aftermath of the storm and then the next few weeks. They started with opening a Red Cross shelter and were out in the field, providing things like food, emotional counseling and eye-glasses. As the temporary Red Cross shelter closed and the next wave of need came, they helped set up a resource center with other assisting agencies and went door to door trying to connect with people whose homes were destroyed or heavily damaged.

Hundreds of people came through that resource center, Smith said. A few people have called this week, but the number of people contacting them has died down a lot from where it was. Her agency is still working to connect people with other agencies that can help.

“If we get a call today, we are going to go out see what the damage is,” she said. “The point that everybody is at now is to be sure that those unmet needs are met.”

Smith urges people to fill out applications with FEMA if they haven’t already — you don’t get aid if you don’t apply — and to check out the City of Greensboro’s website for updates on storm recovery resources. That’s www.greensboro-nc.gov/services/april-2018-storm-recovery-resources.

There are some critical links and phone numbers on that page, like information about a new $50,000 grant from the North Carolina Realtors Association to help people pay one month’s mortgage or rent on the primary residence damaged in the tornado.

Volunteers will be available at the Greensboro Housing Hub, 1031 Summit Ave., in its 2nd floor Learning Lab from 10 am to 4 pm to assist with the application process on May 15, 17, 22, 24, 29 and 31, according to the website.

People outside the area “are going to think things are back to normal,” Smith said, “but I think it is our responsibility and the community’s to say, 'Hey, we still have needs here.'”

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Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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©2018 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

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