Nash, Edgecombe County residents still recovering 6 months after EF-3 tornado

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Friday, January 19, 2024
Nash County still recovering 6 months after EF-3 tornado
Friday marked 6 months since a rare summer EF-3 tornado tore through Nash and Edgecombe Counties, causing devastation in its path.

NASH COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Today marks 6 months since a rare summer EF-3 tornado tore through Nash and Edgecombe counties, causing devastation in its path.

The tornado was on the ground for over 30 minutes on July 19. It touched down in Dortches just before 12:30 p.m. as an EF-1 tornado, tracked northeast, and gained strength. It was an EF-3 storm around the time it reached North Carolina Wesleyan University, the Pfizer facility on US-301 and the Edgecombe County line.

There were no fatalities, but there were 16 injuries reported and damage to homes as well as the Rocky Mount Pfizer plant.

Months later, ABC11 caught up with people in some of the hardest-hit areas. While most homes and businesses are on the road to full recovery, there are still areas with downed trees

One of the hardest hit areas was Dortches. For Michael Poythress, life was good in Dortches with his sidekick Sabot, and his honey, Deborah.

He recalled the day that changed exactly 6 months ago.

"I look to the west and the tornado is right there," Poythress said.

He grabbed both his dog and his partner as the trio held on for dear life in their bathtub.

"The house rolled over several times with us in it," Poythress said.

Flying through the air, miraculously they made it but their home was gone.

In the months since, life has been a whirlwind. United Way along with the help of the community helped Poythress and his family build a new home on the land. But just as they were back in their home, tragedy struck again. Deborah died in December from lingering health issues.

Relying on Social Security, Michael said he's barely scraping by.

"So it looks like even though I have a new home, I'm a loser, I just can't afford it," he said.

He doesn't know what the future holds.

"I fought hard to get her back into this house before she died and we made it by a month, so I don't want to lose the house," Poythress said.

Across town at Saint Stephen's Loving Daycare in Rocky Mount, it's just down the road from the damaged Pfizer plant.

Owner Carolyn Slade was at work the day the tornado just barely missed them - her instincts kicked in to notify parents that their kids were safe after the storm passed through their playground.

"I won't forget it, 36 years of childcare I've never seen such devastation," Slade said.

As the tornado barreled towards them, the room they were most worried about was the nursery. Her staff rushed to get the kids to safety.

There were more than 60 children inside at the time, and miraculously everyone was okay.

Insurance took care of most of the damage to the building itself, and local businesses helped with the cleanup and the fence. The demolished playground costs a bit more, but they're making progress there too.

Slade said the toughest part has been the damage you can't see - the kids are sometimes still scared, but it's something they're working through together.

"We kind of walked them through it, because we all were traumatized, and even now when it winds or rains the kids are like 'are the trees going to be blowing,'" she said.

Despite the trauma, Carolyn says she is grateful that no parents decided to pull their kids from her daycare, and they are still all enrolled.

Overall, local and state officials said the community response has been positive, everyone who applied for federal aid was eligible, and groups like the United Way have been stepping in.

The Pfizer plant is also back open again, and the local jobs were kept in place.