GREENSBORO, N.C. — On the evening of April 15, 2018, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan was eating dinner at a restaurant on Battleground Avenue. Her cellphone rang. It was the city manager telling her a tornado had touched down in east Greensboro and he needed her to sign a state of emergency declaration.
Power was out. More than a thousand structures — from homes to businesses to churches to schools — were destroyed. The city was facing a challenge the likes of which it had never faced.
And the images she would see over the next 24 hours have remained clearly in her memory over the last 12 months.
Recently, as part of our special coverage of the Greensboro Tornado: One Year Later, I walked through some of the storm-ravaged areas. Here are her comments on some of the topics we discussed:
On the current situation:
“We still see a lot of damage. And we know that a lot of people are still feeling the tornado. A lot of people are still hurting. We knew that it was going to be a long road back.”
On the point she realized the damage was really bad:
“It was the first thing the next morning. I went out with the police chief. It looked like a movie set. To see, you know, all the trees that were just down, the way they had been twisted, the way the roofs were off the homes. To see the people out on the street, just the look of utter shock on their faces. It was devastation like I had never seen before.”
On the city’s response:
She told me it was good. And added, (it was) “the city’s response coupled with the neighborhood response. The neighbors, really, I think, took the lead on this from the moment it happened. You know, they didn’t wait for the city to come out and say, ‘What needs to be done?’ They really took the lead.”
On the current housing situation:
“We see houses that have been boarded up that we know landlords, homeowners that have taken insurance payments and have left the area. You know, in that case, the city hopefully can come in and maybe we can buy these homes. We can fix them up and make them rentable.”
“We know some people had been underinsured. We have the ability to help people repair these so they can get back on the rental market here. We have to. We know our stock is down, that we don’t have enough safe, affordable houses for people.”
What can be done to bring more landlords into compliance:
“Years ago, every unit on the market had to be inspected. We would like to see something where repeat offenders would have to have their units re-inspected. The good landlords, the ones who don’t have their units brought before minimum housing, they don’t get caught up in this. But the repeat bad actors, they should be held to a higher standard.”
Her message for east Greensboro:
“We said it was going to take a while. We’re still here. We’re still looking for ways to repair the neighborhoods that need to be repaired.”