Remembering Raleigh: Saturday marks anniversary of historic, deadly 1988 tornado

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If you lived in Raleigh in November of 1988, you remember the tornado.

I was only five years old. I remember walking outside that evening, pointing at the clouds and saying to my mom, “They look weird. They look scary.”

I had just seen “The Land Before Time,” and images of Little Foot’s ghostly dinosaur mother appearing in the clouds over the Great Valley were floating through my head. I didn’t know it meant a tornado was coming – but I knew the clouds scared me that night.

The unexpected overnight tornado killed four people and injured 157 as it tore through Raleigh. It also spun through Wake, Franklin, Nash, Halifax, Northampton and Hertford counties.

Not many people expected a tornado or even severe weather in the waning days of November.

It seems strange that on the anniversary of that historic tornado the Triangle is looking at a forecast of potentially severe weather, damaging winds and isolated tornadoes for Sunday night.

Locals remember the historic tornado
“I lived behind that Kmart! I still have a fear of tornadoes after that night,” said Jennifer J.

Another Raleigh resident, Lynda K., said, “I will never forget that night! My house at the intersection of Mine Shaft and Sawmill was completely destroyed with my family inside. I was six months pregnant with my third child. Thankfully, we were not hurt.”

“Don’t know how so many of us lived through that terrible storm,” said Christy M.

A nurse at Rex hospital recalled leaving her shift after midnight. “It was very warm, very still and very eerie,” she said.

Raleigh suffered priceless losses
People still remember hearing the rumbling outside. They remember hiding in the bathtub. They remember children who died – 9-year-old Janet Barnes and 12-year-old Pete Fulghum.

The two children lived in the same neighborhood.

“Pete Fulghum died as his bedroom walls came crashing in on top of him on that Monday morning. His family found his body an hour later, laying still beside his favorite fishing rod,” wrote WRAL reporter Scott Mason.

Former WRAL anchor Charlie Gaddy remembered the tornado as well.

“The devastation of this thing was incredible,” Gaddy said. “I’ll never forget seeing a woman on the second floor at this apartment development off Creedmoor [Road]. There were no walls on the second floor, but her dresser. It’s amazing what things are preserved and what things are blown away. Her dresser was still there and she went up and started going through the items on her dresser with no walls around her.”

The Asbury United Methodist Church was flattened.

As many people recall, the Kmart was leveled.

The tornado reached maximum intensity of EF-4 strength in northwestern and northern parts of Raleigh and remained on the ground for 84 miles.

It’s been 32 years since that night, many Raleighites can’t help but think of that strange and frightening night decades ago. It’s shared loss, shared fear and shared history.

by Heather Leah (2020, Nov 28) WRAL

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Kyrie Wagner