AUTRYVILLE — After a tornado hit the town’s fire department, State Fire Marshal Mike Causey heard reports and knew it was devastating.
“I saw this on the news, but I didn’t have any idea about how bad it was until I got up close and saw those heavy concrete blocks knocked over by that powerful storm,” Causey said. “I’m just thankful that no one was killed or injured, with all of this property damage.”
Causey, who also serves the state as the North Carolina Insurance Commissioner, came to the town Friday to get an up-close look of the damage. He was joined by Assistant Fire Marshall Brian Taylor other local and state officials. He thanked the fire department for protecting the community and said his office will do anything they can to bring resources to help the town recover.
During his remarks, Causey stated that he will work with Sen. Brent Jackson for funding possibilities from emergency funds. As of Friday, it’s too early to estimate the cost of the damage.
“We have a staff at the Department of Insurance that will help consumers files claim and property damage,” he said in regards about getting assistance from personnel and sources such as www.ncdoi.com.
“We’re here to help and that’s the main message I want to send out,” he said.
Jackson, an Autryville resident who lives nearby, said the town was blessed not to have any deaths or major injures from the tornado.
“We know this community is strong and we know that we’ll build back,” Jackson said. “Between the commissioner and myself, we’ll do what we can in the Raleigh offices and we’ll just keep working to build this community back.”
Jackson said it’s important to keep rural departments going.
“They’ve been such a blessing for so many people for decades and we just want to make sure we get back up and going quickly as possible,” Jackson said.
While speaking about the devastation, Clark Wooten, chair of the Sampson County Board of Commissioners, mentioned how the firefighters give a lot of themselves to protect others.
“We want to gather here today and do everything we can to help them to get their building back and back in place, along with the community its going to effect,” Wooten said.
Ronald Bass, Emergency Management Director for Sampson County, and Autryville Mayor Larry Autry will stay connected with state organizations for assistance. The town is currently using a truck and a loaned backhoe for cleanup work.
Autryville Fire Chief Andrew Hawkins thanked volunteers for stepping up and lending a hand to the department.
“Had it not been for volunteers, it wouldn’t look as good as it does now,” Hawkins said. “We’re just going to take each day, day by day.”
Hawkins also showed appreciation for Causey and other state officials for reaching out. So far, Hawkins is assuming a major loss for the vehicle units, before official insurance amounts are announced. Only one truck was spared and the department is receiving loaners from other departments. One of them came from the Boiling Springs Fire Department in Virginia.
“Any help that’s out there, we’re gladly going to take it,” he said. “We just can’t thank you enough for all of your help.”
The Autryville Fire Department, recently created a GoFundMe campaign at https://goo.gl/x4WoIk. As of Friday, the department raised $2,405 for a $20,000 campaign goal.
Following the tornado on Tuesday night, Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton applauded the work of emergency agencies and others organizations such as the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Before the tornado hit, a lot of officers were in firearm training in Salemburg. They quickly provided assistance. Capt. Eric Pope of the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, assisted with getting the emergency center up and going, when Bass was in route.
“Everybody worked hard and other agencies were here from other counties,” Thornton said. “I had three sheriffs call me from adjoining counties and all three helped us.”
Some of the others involved Friday included Stedman Mayor Billy Horne, Sampson County Commissioner Jerol Kivett and County Manager Ed Causey.
“Our prayers and thoughts are with this community,” he said. “If there’s anything we can do, all you got to do is ask,” Kivett said.
In all, Wooten said a lot of good people took action following the devastation.
“That’s what government is for — to help people when they can’t help themselves,” Wooten said. “I’m proud of Sampson County and I’m proud of North Carolina.”