Cemetery cleanup could take months

City cemetery in Raleigh damaged during April 16 tornado
May 27, 2011 4:16:03 PM PDT
Several Raleigh cemeteries are among the areas hardest hit by last month's tornadoes, including one with 3,000 veterans buried there. It could be next spring before debris in one graveyard is cleared and damage is fixed.

The historic 215-year-old public burial ground is closed, along with two other the city maintains.

"It's hard to look at," said Jane Thurman of the Raleigh City Cemeteries Preservation Group.

She's working to help the city cleanup the graveyard.

"These are historic sites -- sacred burial grounds," she explained. "They're outdoor living -- outdoor museums -- in some ways, with historic monuments."

City officials are working with FEMA to get money for cleanup and repairs but because of the extent of the damage, and the cemetery's historical value, officials say it could take months.

"I couldn't imagine it was this bad, but it was," Thurman said in reference to the April 16 tornadoes. "I was sitting in the closet hearing them say it was going downtown. I hadn't thought about the cemetery."

Many of Betsy Shaw's family members are buried at the historical site. Her family's plots dodged damage from the storm. Others weren't so lucky.

Shaw's also working to clean up the cemetery, but she recognizes how long it could take.

"I think you have to take care of the living before you take care of the dead," Shaw said. "This will have to come when people, who have no homes and no place to go, are situated."

People like Shaw will now not only remember dead loved ones but what the cemetery has survived.

The next step in this long cleanup process is to allow archaeologists into the cemetery to do initial survey work. City officials say that could begin in late July.

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