30 Years Ago Today: Red Cross Worker Recounts Devastating Tornado

This story is from Tammy Forrester, CEO for the Wayne and Lenoir County Chapters of the American Red Cross

Thirty years ago today my little brother and I survived a tornado hitting our house while we were in it.  It’s as fresh in my mind today as if it were yesterday.

 Red Cross CEO, Tammy Forrester (left) comforts Kinston resident, Ida Jackson, after an apartment fire. with  Lenoir County Red Cross board member William Taylor.

Red Cross CEO, Tammy Forrester (left) comforts Kinston resident, Ida Jackson, after an apartment fire. with Lenoir County Red Cross board member William Taylor.

I didn’t know back then that I would ever be working for the American Red Cross. All I knew was that while I walked towards a sea of people standing in the intersection of our devastated neighborhood, that the first set of eyes that met mine was a little lady wearing a Red Cross vest.  She took us to the volunteer fire station were a shelter had been set up.

We stayed at the shelter for a couple of hours until our parents were found.  It was dry, safe, and we felt protected.  I watched her, with a hopeful smile on her face, help people that she had never seen and might not see again but for a brief time she comforted them and eased their anxiety.

There are days that I ask myself why I do what I do, but on days like today when my mind remembers that experience, I know.  I do not remember the volunteers name but I will NEVER forget what she did and how she made me feel.


More on deadly tornado outbreak from WCTI

Greenville Home Fire Survivors Tell their Red Cross Story

Story and photos by Bobbie Staten

Vera Leaby in her new home after the fire.
Vera Leaby in her new home after the fire.

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words and the quick-thinking actions of a disabled twelve year old boy were what saved the Leaby family when their house caught fire.  On December 14, 2013, Vera Leaby’s son, Christopher, alerted the family that something was wrong even before the smoke detectors went off. Thankfully, the family escaped the home uninjured but they were soon struck with the realization that they had nowhere to go.

Mrs. Leaby remembers Red Cross volunteers arriving on the scene within minutes after being called by the fire department.  She has always helped her community and when she needed help she got it from the kind folks of the Red Cross.

Red Cross workers met with the residents and provided them with assistance for food,  clothing (including seasonal garments), shoes, comfort kits, and also made sure the family of four had a safe place stay.  The family also has close ties to friends, church and school in the community who showed an outpouring of support after the fire.

“I want the whole wide world to know about what the Red Cross of Pitt County has done for me and my family,” said Mrs. Leaby. “They were kind and gentle and did not ask a lot of questions.”  She was very grateful for all the services that her family received from the volunteers of the Red Cross who she now considers as friends for a life.

Mrs. Leaby sends many thanks to all those who continue to donate to the Red Cross who helped her family recover from a devastating home fire. “I just want to tell everybody about what the Red Cross did for my family,” said Mrs. Leaby.rco_blog_img_vera

The Leaby family’s final wish is to relocate the family dog, Brawny, who also survived the fire, from the old address to their new home. They make a few trips a week for feeding and caring for their pet but he is in need of proper fencing and a dog house in their new home.  The Red Cross is working to provide referrals for additional services to aid them in this process.

Red Cross and Salvation Army Partner to Assist Fire Victims

Disasters are not scheduled.  They don’t arrive at convenient times; they don’t provide their victims with advanced warning and they don’t assist with picking up the pieces of victims’ lives after their fury has passed.  When disaster strikes, the emotional toll on its victims can oftentimes overshadow the loss of material possessions.  But thanks to the quick response of volunteer organizations like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, 17 families of a Jacksonville, NC apartment building, engulfed by fire yesterday, are already beginning the necessary steps to return to normal.

Shortly after noon yesterday, Jacksonville firefighters were called to battle flames in a 20-unit apartment building.  As residents watched fire, smoke, and water damage many of their possessions, the Onslow County Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army sprang into action to provide affected residents with immediate emergency needs including shelter, food, clothing, supplies, referrals, and emotional support.

Carla McCray replaces a lock on her fire-damaged apartment.
Carla McCray replaces a lock on her fire-damaged apartment.

Carla McCray, a Salvation Army store employee and apartment resident, received a call yesterday afternoon from her landlord telling her of the multi-unit fire and that her apartment was potentially heavily damaged.  Upon arriving at the scene minutes later, she found Red Cross volunteers already on-hand providing food, water, blankets, comfort and assistance.

“They [the Red Cross] showed up so fast,” McCray said.  “Shortly thereafter, the Salvation Army arrived as well and both organizations quickly went to work to help us assess our needs to get us back on our feet.  They provided food, blankets, vouchers for clothes & furniture – I really have no idea what I would have done without them.”

Last year, the Eastern NC Region of the American Red Cross responded to 639 home fires and assisted 2,489 residents with immediate emergency needs.  Nationally, Red Cross volunteers help a family affected by a home/apartment fire or other disaster 190 times a day, or once every 8 minutes.  Disaster assistance can include shelter or temporary lodging, comfort kits (including stuffed animals for affected children), cleanup kits, financial assistance for food, clothing, seasonal garments, linens, mental health counseling and much more.

Happy endings, like Carla’s, are only made possible by the charitable donations of people like you to the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the selfless dedication of thousands of volunteers nationwide.

“I am just so very thankful to all the volunteers who came to help us,” said McCray.  “The [building’s] owner offered many of us new apartments at one of his other properties across the street.  The volunteers helped me and other tenants salvage what we could and move our belongings to the new apartments.  Without the assistance and compassion that we received from the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, I don’t know how we would have managed this disaster.  By tomorrow evening, it’ll almost feel like it never happened and I can’t thank them enough.”