Lessons learned from April 16

Published 8:34 am Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Late Saturday afternoon, May 14 was eerily reminiscent of exactly the same time, precisely 28 days ago.

I was sitting in the exact same spot, behind my desk here at Roanoke-Chowan Publications in downtown Ahoskie. The day was nice, warm and breezy with passing fluffy clouds throughout the afternoon.

Two hours earlier, I was standing on the shore of Beaver Lake, just north of the Thad Eure Bridge in Gates County. There I busily snapped a hundred or so photos of the annual National Collegiate All-Stars Ski Tournament, as hosted by the Beaver Lake Ski Club. That’s one heck of a place to visit if you’ve never been.

But back to the matter at hand.

Four weeks earlier I was again busy with my camera, this time at the annual Hertford-Gates Relay for Life in Murfreesboro. Facing a lot of office work, I headed back to Ahoskie at the conclusion of that event.

Knowing that severe storms were in the forecast on that particular day (April 16), I closely monitored the TV, the online radar of The Weather Channel and the local police/fire/rescue scanner that sits on my desk. From the TV news I knew that a string of tornadoes had already hit portions of our state. Others were forming and all the storms were headed northeast, making a beeline for our little corner of the state.

It was somewhere around 7 p.m. (about the same time I’m writing this column exactly 28 days later) that, pardon my French, all hell broke loose. First, Askewville; then Colerain; then the southeast corner of Hertford County near Harrellsville.

The scanner was non-stop action…dispatchers sending out emergency responders in all directions. Homes, outbuildings and vehicles were no match for what was later determined as a EF-3 tornado – its base three-quarters of one mile wide – with  winds in excess of 155 mph. They were tossed around like children’s toys or completely leveled.

We lost eleven of our R-C area neighbors that day. Damage was in the multi millions. Precious memories were swept away by a twister that showed no mercy on the young or old, black or white, rich or poor.

In the storm’s aftermath, we’ve heard stories of heroism and simple survival. We’ve seen aid come from community members, chipping in to help their friends and neighbors. We’ve seen strange faces – most in the form of the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Baptist Men and Samaritan’s Purse – out in the tornado affected areas, lending whatever assistance was at their disposal.

But what is the most pleasing sight to see is from the rubble emerges a fresh new start. I’ve seen foundations being laid where the storm took its toll.

The piles of rubble will soon be a distant memory, but we need to never forget April 16, 2011 and the lesson it taught all of us.

Just like the storm clouds that blew up in an instant today (May 14), you always need to be prepared for the worse. Stay informed…stay ahead of impeding bad weather. Have a safety plan in place.

Although it’s never an easy task to do, I would much rather snap your photo and interview you in the aftermath of a harrowing experience than to type your obit.

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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