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Deadly 1998 Spring Tornado Rampage Remembered

Release date: 
March 22, 1999
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ATLANTA, Ga. -- Killer tornadoes roared through portions of North Carolina and more than 50 southeastern counties in six states this time last year, leaving a grim wake of twisted destruction, more than 100 deaths, hundreds of injuries and total losses exceeding $179 million in federal and state disaster dollars.

In a tumultuous 60-day period, President Clinton helped Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee combat losses and clean up the mess from one of nature's most violent spring rampages. Not since 1936 when tornadoes killed 400 in Georgia and Mississippi in a terrifying 24-hour span has so much tornado destruction been recorded.

In North Carolina, two persons died in the March 27 tornadoes that ripped through Durham, Edgecomb, Lenoir, Nash and Rockingham Counties. Both fatalities were in Rockingham. The storms triggered more than $15.4 million in federal and state disaster assistance in the counties.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provided assistance to North Carolinians and local governments that included low-interest loans to homeowners, renters and businesses, and grants to replace or repair damaged public facilities such as public buildings and municipal utilities.

"In response to such tremendous loss of life and property," said John B. Copenhaver, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Region IV, "FEMA stepped up funding and launched several initiatives to ensure that more people have safe places to go with time to get there."

This includes the continuing work on development of high-tech tornado and storm warning systems. In 1998, FEMA awarded more than $82 million in hazard mitigation grants designed to lessen the impact of future disasters in the region.

Eric Tolbert, director of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management (NCDEM), cited "a major partnership between North Carolina and FEMA last year that provided more than $10.6 million for a variety of mitigation projects, including severe weather and tornado warning systems."

In addition to warning systems, the federal grants funded communications equipment for communities to ensure continued emergency communications after a disaster.

Since 1990, North Carolina has received more than $43 million from FEMA's Hazard mitigation Grant Program above and beyond hundreds of millions more delivered in disaster recovery assistance.

Copenhaver said he believes a new public awareness about changing weather patterns and safe shelter techniques also emerged from the rubble of destruction. In addition, emergency managers throughout the region renewed efforts to discuss ways of dealing with tornadoes. A tornado summit was held at FEMA's Region IV headquarters in Atlanta, that served to sharpen the focus on development of better warning systems and the important "safe room" concept.

"While there isn't much that can be done to protect property from a direct hit by a twister with winds that approach speeds of 300 mph," he said, "that type storm is very rare, and we're now aware of new ways to help reduce the loss of lives from lesser but still powerful storm strikes." FEMA's Project Impact, a new concept to attack repetitive disaster loss cycles, provides additional funding strength and cooperative benefits toward this goal.

"Project Impact is based on a public-private sector partnership that is committed to making entire communities storm resistant," Copenhaver added. "We've proved that it works."

For more details about how Project Impact can work in a community, persons may log on to FEMA's Internet website,


1998 North Carolina Tornado Funding
Counties Declared Disaster Housing (Rental assistance, minimal repairs,...
Last Updated: 
July 19, 2012 - 23:02
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