04/29/14 — Volunteers head to hard-hit region

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Volunteers head to hard-hit region

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on April 29, 2014 1:46 PM

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Red Cross volunteer Roberto Mendoza

Local Red Cross volunteer Roberto Mendoza saw the destruction left by Friday's tornado right here at home.

In Washington, N.C., he met a man whose mobile home was torn in half.

"This part on this side was still standing," Mendoza said. "Another part on the other side was partially standing. But the middle was gone.

"The man said he heard the tornado coming, looked out and saw it and jumped into his bath tub. When it was over and he came out, everything was gone."

This is just one of the heartwrenching scenes Mendoza saw and horror stories he heard while in Washington with the Wayne County chapter of the American Red Cross doing mobile feeding and assessing the victims' needs.

Mendoza first went to Shine in Greene County Friday, distributing tarps to people who had damage to their homes from trees blowing down. He did that about four hours.

Saturday, he took the chapter's Emergency Response Vehicle to Washington. He worked primarily in two areas -- an area along Asbury Church Road that had a lot of mobile homes on it and on Whichard's Beach Road, where houses were up on stilts.

"There were a lot of tall trees in that area and when the tornado came, it didn't really touch the ground, but came over the top," Mendoza said. "All the trees looked like somebody just grabbed them and snapped the tops off totally with the trunks still standing."

While giving out tarps, gloves and cleanup kits from the ERV, Mendoza saw damage at all levels.

"Minor damage would be where they may have had a branch that came through the roof or broken windows," he said. "Or sometimes the tree limbs would just barely miss the home and take out a porch.

"Major damage was where half the roofs were gone. And I saw a lot of homes that had been destroyed."

Mendoza also saw a lot of homes up on stilts that were not destroyed, but had shifted.

"I talked to a lot of residents in that area with the houses on stilts and they said there was no way they could repair their houses because of the way they'd been shifted," he said. "So they will have to tear them down and rebuild them."

While doing client casework Monday, Mendoza found a man on Beach Road who had had a pontoon boat because his house sits on the sound. After the tornado, the man found his boat a quarter of a mile away in somebody's yard wrapped around a tree.

One man Mendoza talked to had run from his mobile home and laid in a ditch while the tornado went by.

"His home was heavily damaged, probably destroyed because it was an old mobile home," Mendoza said. "In his living room, part of a tree trunk came through on one side. In the back, it blew off part of the roof and part of the back wall. And the man said when he was lying in that ditch, part of a tree trunk fell just a couple feet away from him."

But not everyone was so lucky.

Mendoza heard met a woman whose husband was injured by the tornado and is now in the hospital.

"His condition is iffy," Mendoza said. "And their mobile home was destroyed."

Mendoza said it also "tore at his heart" to see a mobile home that he thought was a trash pile.

"I thought they were just piling all the trash there from a home next to it that they were working on repairing," he said. "But it was a mobile home that got completely destroyed. You could see the place in the dirt where it had been. The frame was covered with debris. The man who lived there couldn't even find his furniture."

Mendoza said a lot of the tornado victims were in shock because all their stuff was just gone. A lot of them didn't have insurance and are trying to figure out what to do next.

That's one reason the Red Cross also provides mental health counseling to the victims.

"When you've just lost everything you've got and you're trying to pick up that part of your life from Thursday night to take forward to what you think is the next part of your life, trying to get pictures out from under the floorboards and you're scouring your yard for what's yours and what's your neighbor's, it's so overwhelming that a lot of people don't know how to pick those pieces up and start again," Wayne County Red Cross director Tammy Forrester said.

"They need somebody who's had that extra training to give them a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen and comfort them and let them know where they can go to receive further help and how the Red Cross can help them. It's somebody to provide them a moment of hope and solid fortitude that tomorrow does come and they will be able to rebuild and this is what we're going to do. We're going to help them get back on track. We try to help them take that next step toward tomorrow."

Even as the funnel clouds were forming Friday, Red Cross officials were in constant contact with weather officials, waiting for when it was safe to send in disaster volunteers to help the victims.

The ERV will be in Washington at least another week or longer. Volunteers from Wayne County who have helped in Greene County and Washington are David Strickland and Ralph Grover. Other volunteers still on the scene in Washington are Mendoza, Mae Panza and Sonja Johnson. Public affairs volunteer Tara Humphries will be returning to Washington off and on.

As of Monday afternoon, the Red Cross had served 2,174 meals and snacks, distributed 100 supplies including blankets, comfort kits and tarps and had given shelter to 18.