Residents remember Fayetteville tornado 3 years later


"Everything just looked like a war zone," said resident Johnny Johnson.

Johnson said not a day goes by that he doesn't think about the tornado that bombed his neighborhood, and gave him flashbacks to Vietnam.

"I ran out of my bedroom. By the time I hit the first step to go downstairs, the whole roof came off," said Johnson. "When it hit the home, that bay window was burst out, that big boom was just like a mortar coming in."

It was a Saturday afternoon in 2011 that many will long remember. The tornado cut a nearly 10-mile long path of destruction. It reduced homes and businesses to piles of rubble.

"The destruction, it was horrible. It was really horrible," said resident Jeannie Sawyer.

There are still signs in Sawyer's neighborhood of the storm's damage. A few homes are still unrepaired. There are empty lots where homes used to stand. The emotional scars are a lot deeper.

"It seems like it has been a long time, but every time you hear the word tornado, it's like, 'Oh,'" said Sawyer.

In many neighborhoods, residents quickly mobilized to help their storm stunned neighbors.

Emergency crews estimated storm damage in Cumberland County at nearly $100 million. Neighborhoods in Lee and other counties were also hammered.

"I was right in the center of the path of the tornado," said resident Michael Lewis.

Lewis' home became an iconic symbol of the destruction and residents determination. Lewis, who is a retired special forces solider, raised the American flag over his storm battered home. Now, a flag still flies outside his new home, which was built on the same lot.

"Putting up the American flag, it was an act of defiance against nature," said Lewis.

The storm blew the roof off of Ben Martin Elementary School as well.

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