Kimberly Smith,Spot
Jim R. Bounds  /  AP
Kimberly Smith holds her dog Spot as she stands outside her tornado-ravaged home in Askewville, N.C., on Tuesday. 
By
updated 4/20/2011 7:17:43 PM ET 2011-04-20T23:17:43

Kimberly Smith cried and prayed with her children as they huddled inside her trailer when a weekend tornado roared through eastern North Carolina. About 130 miles away and three hours earlier, Cecilia Zuvic cowered in the bathroom of her two-story Raleigh home, said similar prayers and shed similar tears as parts of her roof blew away.

The two women had similar losses: Smith's rented mobile home is in tatters and Zuvic's house is unlivable for now.

In the storm's aftermath, however, their experiences diverged.

Zuvic was on the phone with her insurance agent within an hour of being pulled from her home and is set up for a rental until repairs on her house can be finished in several months.

Smith lost almost everything, including $300 in groceries bought with the disability check from her fiance, the sole breadwinner in their home.

Smith has to depend on the trailer park's landlord, who lost nearly all his income with the park's destruction, to repair or rebuild her home. She wonders if her family will end up living in a tent beside her wrecked home.

Saturday's tornadoes in North Carolina struck one of the state's richest counties and a few of its poorest, leaving well-to-do professionals in the capital city and poor tobacco farmers down east scrambling for their lives.

Story: Storm's death toll rises to 23 in North Carolina

But days after the common experience, their lives again bear few similarities. Those with insurance and money are ready to rebound. And the people who were barely scraping by to begin with say they have no place to stay, no income and no easy future.

In Bertie County, where nearly a quarter of residents are below the poverty level, Johnny Mizelle fled from the storm and watched from his pickup's rear view mirror as nearly everything he owned was blown away. The few things of value left behind, like the motor to his fishing boat, were picked over by looters just hours after the storm passed.

Mizelle is living with relatives for now, but even those whose homes were spared from the tornado were walloped by the storm. Debris tossed about by the swirling winds is strewn across the family's fields, making it impossible to plant the corn that must go in the ground this week and casting doubt on the tobacco crop that needs to be sown next week. Mizelle's family can't go a year without the money from the farm.

"It's going to take forever to clean them up," Mizelle said. "Where do you begin?"

'Don't have a thing'
About 30 miles south of Raleigh, residents of the Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park in Dunn face a similar decision. The county sits at the crossroads of Interstates 95 and 40, and companies once were eager to open warehouses nearby. But the economic downturn struck hard in surrounding Harnett County, sending the unemployment rate in February to 10.8 percent.

Story: Woman survives twister in bathtub

Terry Burgess lived with her husband in a trailer damaged in Saturday's tornado. The storm killed one of their neighbors and destroyed more than half the homes.

Terry Burgess
Chuck Burton  /  AP
Terry Burgess wipes away a tear as she sits in the doorway of her damaged home at a mobile home community in Dunn, N.C.

Burgess' family can stay with relatives for a little while. But she can't find work and the $1,200 a month from her husband's disability barely covered their bills before the storm.

"Nobody in this place can afford to just move. We're all in the same position — and now we're starting from the beginning. We don't have a thing," she said.

The tornadoes claimed at least their 24th victim on Wednesday, as Colerain resident Mary Williams died from her injuries. She was in a Bertie County group home where two others died in Saturday's storm. Bertie County suffered half of the state's reported deaths from the tornadoes.

Gov. Beverly Perdue on Wednesday thanked the White House for declaring 18 counties disaster areas so they can get federal aid. Officials are still tallying the damage, but the latest figures show nearly 6,200 homes damaged and about 440 destroyed across North Carolina.

About 5,000 of the damaged homes were in Raleigh, including Zuvic's house on the south side of the city near storm-ravaged Shaw University. But any time Zuvic finds herself inconvenienced, the account manager for a software firm tries to remember how lucky she is.

The tornado blocked her in her home and she had to be pulled from a window. She tried to call 911, but the line was busy, so she called her boyfriend instead. After the two secured her house with a tarp, her next call was to her insurance company, which by Tuesday agreed to pay for a temporary place as well as repairs to her home and car, which was crumpled by falling debris.

"They've been very nice and helpful. They told me we owe you a house just like the one you had," Zuvic said. "It's frustrating that it is going to be four months, but I'm counting my blessings too."

'On my own'
Even in Wake County, where the median household income is more than $63,000, plenty of people face uncertain futures. Not far from Zuvic's house, Helen Macklin, 63, lost the roof to her apartment in the storm. Each day since, with nowhere else to go, she has sat in her motorized wheelchair on a sidewalk outside the apartment, arriving at 7 a.m. and leaving when darkness falls to spend the night with any friend who will let her stay.

Macklin's daughter would likely take her in, but her pets bother Macklin's breathing problems. She doesn't want to go to a shelter because she has so many aliments.

"At night, I go place to place, staying with friends, home to home," she said. "You wear your welcome out in somebody's home. I've got find somewhere. In the meantime, I guess I'm on my own."

In Bertie County, people are glad to be alive, even in dire circumstances. When Smith starts fretting about where she will live when the Red Cross hotel vouchers run out, the stay-at-home mom tells herself that the Lord delivered her safely through the storm as she lay atop her three children in that tiny closet and her fiance strained to hold the closet door shut as the tornado battered their home.

"Well, we'll just have to put our tent up here and try to survive the best way that we can," she said. "It's all good. We can do it."

___

Weiss reported from Dunn. Martha Waggoner in Raleigh and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: The storm-ravaged embrace kindness from strangers

Photos: Dozens dead after storms rip through 6 states

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  1. Dade County High School student Marcella Lackey, second left, dances with Craig Holmes, left, at her high school prom in Dade County, Ga., on Saturday, May 14. Two weeks after a tornado devastated their town, students from Dade County High came together for their prom, hoping the traditional teenage rite of passage can help them regain a sense of normalcy. (Billy Weeks / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An aerial photo taken on April 17 shows a home severely damaged by a tornado that ripped through Gloucester, Va. on April 16. Tornadoes and flash flooding have left several people dead in Virginia, and crews are continuing to assess damage that severe weekend storms caused across several areas of the state. (Randall Greenwell / The Virginian-Pilot via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tornado victim Clay Anderson, left, with his dog Mindy, sits on the steps of his back porch and talks with American Red Cross volunteer Kathi Garrett in the Saint Andrews community in Sanford, N.C. on April 17. (Wesley Beeson / The Sanford Herald via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Nathaniel Ramey, left, comforts Megan Hurst at her grandmother's house in Askewville, N.C. on April 17 after a tornado struck the previous day. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. This aerial photo taken on April 17 shows a home severely damaged by a tornado that ripped through Gloucester, Va. on April 16. (Randall Greenwell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Kathy Gay looks up at the damaged ceiling in the home of her brother Gary Jordan on April 17 in Gloucester, Va. (Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A car is swallowed up by a hole left after a tree fell as a tornado passed just south of downtown Raleigh, N.C. on April 17. (Stan Gilliland / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The remains of two school buses at Page Middle School in Gloucester, Va. on April 17, a day after the tornado hit. (Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Chris Nelson hugs his daughter Andrea, 15, in the parking lot in front of Lowe's hardware store in Sanford, N.C. on April 17, a day after a tornado destroyed the building while the Nelsons were inside shopping. The Nelsons returned Sunday to reclaim their truck, back right. (Ted Richardson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. An aerial photo shows tornado damage at the Lowe's Home Improvement Center in Sanford, N.C. on April 17. (Thomas Babb / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Mary Grady sits in her neighbor's yard where she rode out a tornado in Askewville, N.C. on April 17. Her home was destroyed in the storm. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A woman inspects her home and car in Raleigh, N.C. on April 17, after homes and businesses were badly damaged Saturday by a severe storm system that whipped across the state. It brought flash floods, hail and reports of tornadoes from the western hills to the streets of Raleigh. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Debris fill the street after a tornado hit Raleigh, N.C., April 17. Tornadoes tore through the Carolinas on Saturday afternoon as the death toll rose to at least 45 people from the storms across the southern United States over the last three days. (Chris Keane / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Raleigh police officer J.L. Bloodworth speaks with a man seeking information about relatives who live at the Stoney Brook Mobile Home Park in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, April 16, where three people where killed. (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A worker takes a picture of the damage left behind by a tornado in Raleigh, N.C. (Chris Keane / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Jeffrey Tan, 13, left, sits on the tree that fell on his great-grandmother's house, Saturday, April 16, in Raleigh, N.C. (Chris Seward / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. An auto repair shop lost its back wall and roof after a tornado ripped through the area, Saturday, April 16, in Raleigh, N.C. (Robert Willett / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Emergency personnel confer in front of Lowe's Home Improvement after it was hit by a tornado in Sanford, N.C., Saturday, April 16. "The Lowe's Home Improvement has been flattened," said Monica Elliott, who works at the nearby Brick City Grill. "It's totally destroyed." (Jim R. Bounds / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A.C. Bivens looks at the damage to his home after a tornado ripped through Washington County, Ala., on April 16. (Dan Anderson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Family and friends go through the debris of what is left of Gene Box's trailer after a tornado killed her and two of her children while ripping through Washington County, Ala., on April 16. (Dan Anderson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Only stairs and flowers remain Saturday, April 16, after severe winds tore a mobile home off its lot late Friday night in Boone's Chapel, Ala. (Amanda Sowards / Montgomery Advertiser via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Bill Mosley, right, urges his daughter Lisa Mosley to walk carefully through the spare bedroom, fearful that she step on a roofing nail as the two gather possessions from the tornado damaged house in Clinton, Miss., Friday, April 15. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Standing amid downed trees and destroyed houses, members of Southside Baptist Church of Yazoo City, give a prayer of thanks following several hours of work cutting up trees and removing storm debris in this Clinton, Miss., neighborhood, Friday, April 15. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A car drives through a partially flooded street, Friday, April 15, 2011 in Decatur, Ala. (John Godbey / The Decatur Daily via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Storms continue to brew as I-20 is shut down after a morning tornado downed power lines and overturned cars and trucks Friday, April 15, in Clinton, Miss. (Brian Albert Broom / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Friends and neighbors help tornado stricken residents remove possessions in east Clinton, Miss., Friday, April 15. (Rogelio V. Solis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A billboard lays collapsed on the ground after a tornado went through Friday, April 15, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Michelle Lepianka Carter / The Tuscaloosa News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Makala Welch helps her grandparents clean up after a tornado touched down in Clinton, Miss., April 15. (Charles Smith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Jerome Whittington attempts to salvage belongings through the window of his automobile in Tushka, Okla., Friday, April 15. (Sue Ogrocki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Two women stand in the middle of what used to be houses after a large tornado hit the small town of 350 people, killing two, in Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A woman removes belongings from a house damaged after a large tornado hit Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Evan Whitehead walks past a family member's vehicle and house while looking for belongings after a large tornado hit Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Volunteers pitch in to remove branches from a fallen oak tree in Tushka, Okla., Friday, April 15, following a tornado. (Sue Ogrocki / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Denym Pingleton, left, carries her books out of the inside of what is left of their school with fellow students Kayla Wilhite, right, and Courtney Wilhite after a large tornado hit Tushka, Okla., April 15. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A severe storm passes over east Tulsa and the Renaissance Hotel, in Tulsa, Okla., April 14. (James Gibbard / Tulsa World via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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Interactive: Birth of a tornado

  1. Above: Interactive Birth of a tornado
  2. Interactive 2011 tornado season

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