Raleigh tornado! Sheep farm demolished in Corinth

Saturday, 4/16/11   I had gone to the Raleigh City Museum to participate in the Civil War clothing presentation all afternoon. When I left at 3:30, the thunder storm was loud and right overhead, and I grabbed an advertising newspaper to use for an umbrella. By the time I got my car out of the parking deck and headed south for the expressway, it was very dark ahead. I turned on a side street heading west, and saw two blocks ahead of me, a whirling column of debris in front of a gray cloud on the ground! I’ve watched my share of “Storm Chasers” on the Weather Channel! This looked just like a tornado to me. In Raleigh?? How could that be?!  I did an immediate U-turn and went back the way I had come, then turned south for the expressway. I got only one block and there it was again–trees whipping around, pouring rain, and that wall of flying debris with the gray cloud inside it! I stopped where I was, and turned on WPTF, our local radio station, to see what they advised. “Go to a safe place,” they kept saying. I had no idea where that would be, except it was NOT where I was sitting! They put me on the phone with their weather man while I waited under a bridge overpass, car rocking while standing still, waiting for the storm to pass. On the far side of the overpass I sat under, a construction chain-link fence with plastic hanging down the inside had lifted into the air, clinging by only the last section, while the rest flapped in the air like a flag nearly gone in the wind, so I backed up a little more, still in the shelter of the high bank of dirt that supported the bridge. I had no luck asking him where a safe place was to be found, unfortunately, since he was catching calls like mine constantly, as they tried to track the direction of the tornado from local peoples’ calls. I told him the intersection where I was watching it from. And I stayed hunkered down in the shelter of that overpass bank. After a few minutes, the debris settled to the ground, and I rolled down the window for a look around, because I remember in Storm Chasers sometimes a tornado will drop down behind the viewer–but that didn’t happen, and the trees returned from swithing in a high wind,  to dripping in the rain. I crept ahead. I couldn’t believe the mess! Traffic lights on the ground, electric poles, cables and street lights ditto, huge boards with long nails sticking out of them across the road in a random pattern as far as I could see down that empty highway. Two young men in cars were going my way. They’d honk the horn and wave, stop just before they ran over one of the pieces of building in the road, jump out in the rain, each pick up one end, and toss it into the median. They’d wave, hop back in, and move ahead a few feet and do it again. I couldn’t imagine a better lane to drive in than right behind the two of them! After  I passed the first intersection, driving over the cables that used to hold the street lights up, the litter was in smaller pieces, but the nails stuck up from them. I wove around trying to miss the biggest pieces, and somehow escaped without a flat tire. The awkward thing that next occurred, since cars in the lanes heading North were all stopped, with electric wires draped over the tops of the cars in front–the emergency and police vehicles were coming north up the south lane, where I was trying to creep through to get home. I’d stop and wait for them to go by, then start again. Then I’d pull onto the median if it didn’t already have boards in it, wait for them to pass, then go on south. The first four pictures show some of the damage I drove through trying to get home. The crepe myrtle trees in the median served as filters, and the insulation and plastic had blown into those trees with pieces of roof and boards, and landscaping trees and branches…  Too close!

I had almost reached the southern end of the debris in the road when my cell phone rang. Elaina, one of our local shepherds, called to tell me Kelly, who lives in Corinth, 15 mi. south of us, with a flock of sheep and several new lambs, had her farm demolished. Sheep were out and needed to be contained and moved to another farm where there was no power so no phones. I said we’d go down there as soon as I could get out of Raleigh. I called Dirk where the worst of the storm had passed. It missed our house–touched down about 2 mi. from here in Holly Springs–Dirk said it was windy, rainy, thunder/lightening, but no twister. Yes, he’d drive over to Lynn’s and tell her what was needed. By the time I drove through sheets of rain and wind and got home, Lynn was vacating one of her pastures, and would lend her horse trailer and 2 of her big dog crates to move the lambs and the one pregnant ewe that hadn’t yet delivered. I called my Army retiree neighbors who are priceless in a stressful situation, they loaded up their generator and brought that down, and we filled our gas cans and brought them along, also. By the time we arrived, the lambs and their ewes were penned in a corner of the pasture, held there with hog panels tied together at the corners.

The branches that completely covered Kelly’s front lawn hid boards with nails in them, broken bottles (her recycle bins were sucked out from under the car port and dispersed around the house), so we worked on clearing a path so the truck could back across the lawn to load the sheep. We had an assembly line of lifting one lamb at a time from the sheep pen into the dog kennel. I’d stand at the dog pen and let in the next one, and shut the pen again. With many people helping, it only took about 20 minutes to load all the sheep, then lift the heavy pens up to the back of the pick-up truck, and by dark, we arrived at Lynn’s farm with a bale of alfalfa hay and some sweet feed to get them settled in. After dark, we all went home, and Kelly camped out in her house, the roof of which sported a 150 yr. old oak tree that had a trunk so big she couldn’t sit on it, after two days’ work removed it from the roof. In the meantime the insurance adjuster said the roof had been lifted off the house, the house twisted, beams broken, windows popped out of frames, then the tree slammed down and held the roof on. She had water in the kitchen and dining room, but mercifully the roof stayed put, and acted as an umbrella for the rest of the house.

Her fencing is badly damaged, and the remaining chickens have become free-range. Five white geese turned up after the blow, and have decided to stay and share the chicken feed. She’s had many helpers working with her on clearing the fence of all those trees, and it will take a several more work days with some talented people and chain saws to close the fence again. Her barn to store hay and feed is gone, and the sheep shelter, and the chicken coop. Only lost 2 chickens, though. All the sheep survived 🙂  She’s now moved out of the house to a vacant home next-door, has her sheep back home in a small fenced portion of the pasture, and soon the house will come down and she’ll have another one built. Thank goodness she had insurance!

Not the way I had thought to spend my birthday, but it was unique! All clear now, nearly a full moon.

We’re very thankful!


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