A year later

Families recall the day a tornado changed lives
Jan. 11, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

A year ago tonight an EF2 tornado roared through areas of Bostic and Ellenboro, ripping three homes from their foundations and tossing them into heaps of rubbish.

Four residents of the homes off of Piney Mountain Church Road were caught in the debris or  under the walls waiting for help.

 Ellenboro firefighters were first on the scene and began the massive recovery efforts, joined immediately by volunteers from across the county. It was a long night. For some it has been a very long year.

On Thursday the four residents talked about the horror of the night — Jan. 11, 2012 —  the long days of recovery and recuperation and months of returning home.

Shirley Wood, 55, was the last homeowner to move into her new residence. During Thanksgiving week she and daughter Samantha moved into a new mobile home adjacent to her mother's property.

Across the road from her new home is where Wood, Samantha and her four grandchildren were living in a single wide trailer the day of the tornado. Wood remembers the trailer shaking and hearing the rain and hail. She was in bed. She couldn't get up.The walls caved in on her.

 One year earlier her trailer was destroyed by a fire. She couldn't rebuild on the same location again.

Gordon McDaniel, brother-in-law of Wood, recalled the scene last year.

 "I was very surprised when I got the telephone call that the trees were down everywhere," McDaniel said. " It was a shocker."

Just yards from the debris of her shattered home, Byron Cole  was lying in his back yard, screaming for help. His single wide trailer was hit.  He remembers getting ready for church when all of a sudden he woke up in his yard. With a badly broken leg, Cole said he passed out momentarily and woke up in horrific pain.

"I don't remember a lot," Cole said "But I remember yelling for help," he said. 

Cole told the first person on the scene he needed to call his boss at East Rutherford High School, where he is a busdriver so someone could drive his bus the next morning.

Cole believed from that night on he would be able to drive his bus again, and two weeks before the end of the school year in May, he was back on the road. 

Just up the road from Cole, Harold and Barbara Henderson were trying to escape their home that was also falling in around them. Most of their wood frame house had been torn apart and Barbara was under a wall unable to move. Harold tried to get her out. He was unsuccessful so he waited for rescue personnel.

Mr. Henderson heard the screams of his grandson, Byron, and there was nothing he could do.

Wood was taken to Carolinas Medical Center where she remained for several days receiving treatment for the injuries to her face, head and body.

Samantha and the four children were taken to Rutherford Regional Medical Center for treatment and released the same night.

Cole was transported to Mission Hospital in Asheville where he underwent surgery for a badly broken femur. Recuperation took months.

Barbara Henderson was taken to Rutherford and released later the same night of the storm. During the subsequent days, she and Harold were in and out of the hospital. His heart couldn't take the devastation.

Dozens of other residents in the area lost barns, outbuildings and other structures.

There were no other injuries.

After damage assessment was completed by the state and federal government, the historic January tornado caused more than $750,000 in damage. 

But the spirit of the community was priceless.

The homeowners didn't have insurance and rebuilding was challenging.

The morning after the storm dozens of volunteers converged on the property where the homes were destroyed and began the monumental task of clean-up.

In less than a week, plans were underway for the Henderson's new home.

Harold Henderson said although it is not good to dwell on the bad memories, "we can't keep it off our minds. When you see a thunderhead today, you know it's not going to happen again but it could."

"The biggest blessings came when so many people came to help. Friends you knew and friends I still don't know," he said.

Nearby churches provided food every day for weeks for volunteers.

"It was so much more than just walls," Harold said of he recovery efforts.

Nearly every Saturday after the storm hit until the week of Thanksgiving, volunteers were working on one of the three honmes.

The Hendersons moved back home in early summer and Cole was home in late summer.

In addition to thousands of volunteer hours, more than $13,000 was raised by community volunteers and was later distributed among the homeless.

Rutherford County Emergency Management Director Roger Hollifield also recalled the tornado. He said when he first heard the emergency calls, he didn't believe it could possibly be a tornado.

"It was a rare event anyway, but really a rare event in January," he said.

But the closer he got to the scene, "it was obvious at that point there was a pretty good area of damage, based on the radio traffic alone."

The families expressed their thanks to all the churches and volunteers across the county and state who brought them back on their feet.

All the families were at their respective homes for Christmas, sharing dinner, gifts and time together.

Above the mantle in the Henderson's new home is a family photograph with all the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren seated around the couple.

"We are so blessed," Henderson said.

Just up the road, Wood echoed his comments, "the good Lord is taking care of us all."


Dear friends,

On January 11, 2012 many lives were changed forever. It is hard to believe that it has already been a year since that horrific night when an EF2-tornado ripped through the Walls Community. Homes were damaged, and even destroyed, but the worst thing was the potential loss of life.
From the time we received the phone call from my wife's father telling us about the tornado hitting their house, that her mother was trapped, and that our son Byron was missing, we never stopped praying that everything would be alright.

So, today one year later we want to take opportunity to thank everyone who gave of their time, treasures and talents to help in the clean-up and rebuilding process.

From the emergency personnel there at the scene and the hospitals, to all the churches, businesses and individuals who had a part in helping these families to recover from this disaster, we say from the depths of our hearts, "thank you!"

It is because of people like you that the Henderson family now has a brand new home, the Wood family has a new place to live and Byron has a new place to call home.

You have shown that love for our fellowman still exists in the hearts of people from all walks of life.

May God richly bless everyone of you for all that you have done.

The Cole, Henderson and Wood families