Tornado survivors still coping physically, mentally

June 16, 2011 7:31:53 PM PDT
Downed trees sill litter neighborhoods two month after the April 16 deadly tornadoes.

In the Sandhills, you can hear the sound of progress in the Cottonade subdivisions in Fayetteville. Scores of homes were damaged or destroyed now, the signs of recovery are almost everywhere.

At one home, a tree remains on a roof and storm debris is all over the property. However, it's the exception rather than the rule in the neighborhood.

Homeowner Bernie Hyland survived the storm by hiding in his bathroom. He says the storm was so powerful it sucked the sap out of the pine trees in his back yard.

Now, he watches as construction crews rebuild his home and replace what the storm blew away. Hyland is still impressed by neighbors helping neighbors.

"People have really been pitching in still," he said. "I mean, now they're starting to go back into their own yards and handle themselves, but people are still helping each other out if there is the slightest need."

Piles of debris still litter parts of the neighborhood, but the neighborhood is returning to normal. It has been a slow process for everyone, including the man who felt like his lungs were being sucked out of him as the tornado made its way through his back yard.

"I haven't been in a rush because I rather have them take their time and take it apart," Hyland said as he watched the construction crew. "Then again, I'm lucky I have four walls and a roof. I've seen some other people so I can't complain."

For Tina Palmer, who's Cottonade home was flattened, the emotional recovery is ongoing.

"Emotionally, it's been rough but it's starting to get a little bit better," she said. "Except like you just said, with storms [and] any type of lightening, lights flicker, anything. We all still kind of jump a little bit, and my son will not talk about tornadoes at all."

The lot has been cleared at 505 Halifax Drive where Palmer's house used to stand, but for the 11 people who rode out the storm inside the bathtub inside the house, the memory of what happened is far from gone.

The family has moved into a new house. Dennis Palmer says he and several of his children, who survived the storm, now suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

"But as far as the kids, when they see that -- when they see dark clouds and the rain and stuff, they're in my room," he said. "They won't leave me, so they're still going through that. I've got counseling appointments set up for three of them for this week."

The Red Cross has connected dozens of survivors with PTSD with counselors. Experts say emotions repairs may take longer than it takes to rebuild entire neighborhoods.

Raleigh Recovery

Tornado survivors are seeing how diverse, thriving neighborhoods have changed.

Lee Stewart says trees are down and most of his neighbors are gone, although his property had minor damage. He says on most days, the sound of birds chirping is drowned out by sounds of repair and construction.

The situation is similar to other parts of Raleigh where piles of debris remain and some damaged homes and businesses appear untouched.

On South Saunders Street, the recovery effort is well underway. There are several businesses that are struggling to reopen. Earp's Seafood has posted a sign saying it has been proud to serve the community for 43 years, but does not know when it will reopen.

On Marlborough Road where Stewart lives, the future of the area remains uncertain.

"There's a sinking feeling in my gut every time I drive back down Marlborough and just see what I know to have been a beautiful neighborhood," he said. "The most troubling thing is not knowing where the neighborhood's going to be in a few years."

He hopes his neighbors will rebuild but knows the process will take a long time.

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