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One Year Later: Family Pieces Together Home, Lives

March 28, 1985

BENNETTSVILLE, S.C. (AP) _ Bill Gore had been readying his new rose bushes for planting the afternoon a year ago that a tornado ripped through his yard. In moments, the garden was a tangle of debris, the house off its foundation.

The next day, Gore thought about the roses as he and his wife, Mary Nelle, gathered belongings that were strewn throughout the house, the yard and their neighbor’s field.

Gore had carefully chosen where to plant those bushes, a place in the sun, safe from the shadows of the 26 tall pines that dotted his yard. But the roses were gone, the trees with them, swept away by the March 28, 1984, tornado.

″I found them later (in a nearby field) when we were cleaning up, the tags still on them,″ said Gore, a 42-year-old banker. ″Little things like that kind of gave you a little hope. We thought maybe we’d reconsider (moving).″

The Gores - Bill; Mary Nelle, 43; Will, 14; Jim, 13; and Joel, 9 - began putting their home and their lives back together with the help of friends.

In the year that followed, the family pulled closer to one another and coped, the Gores say, by holding onto the positive things.

″We fortunately were able to put things back the way they were,″ Gore said in an interview earlier this week. ″I think we were blessed by all of the people ... the people that came around here to help.″

They stayed with friends at first, then rented a small house downtown. When summer came, Mrs. Gore and the boys stayed at the family’s vacation house on Ocean Isle, and Gore went there on weekends.

In October, they moved back into their home at 727 Crestview and bought a weather radio which they listen to every morning.

But it’s still not easy for the Gores to talk about the twister.

Sixty-five people were killed - 10 in the Bennettsville area - as the storm swept through the eastern Carolinas, with 35 twisters touching down in the two states. Officials estimated 1,252 people were injured and put damage and cleanup costs at more than $200 million.

″The trauma of the thing and the terror of it is something you don’t get over in a year,″ said Mrs. Gore, a first-grade teacher.

The wind peeled the roof off one corner of the Gores’ house, blew away an upstairs bedroom and moved the house six inches off its foundation. Windows were broken and doors were blown off their hinges; the ceiling in the den fell and the chimney collapsed.

The family, huddled together in a downstairs bathroom, heard only a deafening roar. Mrs. Gore remembers the tears on her eldest son’s face and her husband’s first words when he emerged from the bathroom - ″My God, the roof of the house is gone.″

By 7 a.m. the next day, friends started coming to help. They pulled clothes from trees, packed up the Gores’ belongings and moved furniture from the house.

Several teen-age girls crawled on hands and knees inside and found Mrs. Gore’s jewelry. Another neighbor tracked down Bill’s scattered tools by starting at the garage and following the path of the storm.

For several days, the Gores were so glad to be safe they didn’t think about what they had lost.

″I never questioned, ‘Why us?’ We were in the path and a lot of people were in the path,″ Gore said.

Several hundred people attended a memorial service in a Bennettsville church on Wednesday night, the first anniversary of the tornado. But Gore would prefer that the date pass quietly.

The roses finally were planted and they bloomed, but a killing frost took them last winter. This spring the Gores’ yard looks bare without the trees but Gore found something positive in that, too.

″Now I can put a rose garden anywhere,″ he said.

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