In Lee County, Extension supports tornado recovery

On April 16, Seth Holt was working on his farm in Lee County, when he saw a dark cloud headed his way. Holt, a Lee County agricultural Extension agent, took shelter from what turned out to be a major thunderstorm on his farm. But later he realized how lucky he had been when he saw the devastation that tornadoes had done to his county.

“It actually got worse as it moved through,” Holt said.

Lee County was home to the Lowe’s home improvement store that was destroyed by tornadoes from the same storm. Quick-thinking store employees ushered customers into the back of the store for safety. As a result, no one in the store was injured even though tornadoes ripped the roof off the building, toppled merchandize inside and tossed cars in the parking lot like toys.

Since April, Holt and other Extension employees – in Lee County and beyond — have been busy helping to make their counties whole again. Recently, N.C. Sen. Richard Burr visited Lee County to see the devastation firsthand and to ensure county residents their needs would be met.

“Burr was appalled at the devastation, but he had a positive message,” Holt said. “He said, ‘build it back better than it was.’ He said there would be help for this.”

tornado damage
A John Deere tractor sits tossed among debris from April 16 tornadoes. Extension and others are aiding recovery.

Four major agricultural operations in Lee County sustained serious damage: Two large tobacco operations, one horse operation and a wholesale/retail nursery. The two tobacco operations lost a total of 42 curing barns – one operation lost 32 and another lost 10. One operation also needed a curing shelter.

Holt contacted N.C. State’s Loren Fisher, tobacco Extension specialist, who spread the word about the need for the barns. Growers with barns to sell offered them, and now the Lee County growers must go pick them up.

Growers pulled together to help the affected farms recover. “Farmers in Lee and other counties showed up to help – plant tobacco and clean up debris,” Holt said.

Horticulture Extension agent Brenda Gwynn helped with recovery at the nursery by leading a group of volunteers who installed a new irrigation system and salvaged plants.

In addition, all Extension staffers helped growers fill out their disaster recovery paperwork. “Growers are anxious to see what relief they will get,” Holt said.

There is still much work to be done, but Holt is pleased with progress made toward recovery. “I think it’s going great, I really do,” he said. “The recovery is slow, but it’s steady.”

Editor’s note: Bertie County’s Extension staff raised more than $7,000 for tornado relief: Read more.

-N. Hampton

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