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The Daily Tar Heel

Hillsborough residents reflect on 30-year anniversary of deadly tornado

2022-11-22 Lam, Hillsborough Tornado-1.jpg
DTH Photo Illustration. The Daily Tar Heel newspaper covering the Hillsborough tornadoe 30 years ago, captured on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

Thirty years ago, Hillborough resident Faylor Riley was sleeping in her home with her husband when a tornado touched down.

The tornado tore the roof off her home, and she lived in a motel until the house was rebuilt.

“So, at that point, I really could hear people crying and screaming, on my street and the street behind me, just all around,” Riley said. “So I'm thinking in my mind, if I could just get to my mom and dad's house, you know, maybe everything will be okay.”

On Nov. 24, 1992, the tornado killed two people — Josh Hall, 2, and Joe Terrell, 53 — in Hillsborough. The storm also hospitalized 10 people and damaged more than 100 homes.

Margaret Hauth, the assistant town manager of Hillsborough, was the planning director in 1992 when the tornado took place.

She said she felt like she was in a warzone when she entered the town on Nov. 24. Because of the storm’s impact on Hillsborough and the news coverage and publicity it brought to the town, other communities were aware of the situation, she said.

“But I feel like the tornado created an opportunity for the community to come together and for the community to interact more robustly with the government,” Hauth said.

At large, the town successfully recovered from the effects of the storm due to the emergency response in addition to residents helping each other, Riley said. 

She also said she thinks Hillsborough was not prepared for the tornado but will be in the future.

“I don't leave home, but I try to stay protected here,” Riley said. “So that's what I do all the time. I have a little kit. I keep it packed as well, in case something does happen. And hopefully, I can grab that kit and be safe.”

According to Lee Ringer, a meteorologist for Spectrum 1, 28 percent of North Carolina's tornadoes occur at night, but 81 percent of tornado deaths in the state occur at night because people often don't have a way to receive a warning at that time.

Orange County Emergency Services Director Kirby Saunders said much of the Town's warning and alert technology has changed since the 1992 tornado. 

Saunders said the department emphasizes both individual and whole community preparedness strategies and response approaches.

“It's really the whole community's efforts and responsibility, even at the very basic level of it's our responsibility and individual for whatever community we live in to be prepared,” Saunders said. “We take we can take it a step further, and so if we're prepared, then this is how we can help others.”

The Community Emergency Response Team is an integral part of communities for parents, Saunders said. 

Saunders said the department is focusing on equity by leveraging community leaders and communities of color to help navigate and use networks for services like vaccines, health and education. However, the department still needs to improve in this area, he said. 

"The reality of the matter is this is a whole community approach," he said. "No one organization or entity or group can solve the problem. It takes a collective for us to address this."

He said when opportunities arise, the department always encourages residents to get involved and become a part of the community in order to help resolve issues and reach a new level of preparedness and resiliency.

“Only thing we have is just memories,” Riley said. “You know, we stroll down memory lane, occasionally.”


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