A lesson in the stormy weather

One of the nearly 2,500 houses damaged or destroyed by a tornado that hit neighborhoods of Raleigh, N.C., on April 16. (Photo courtesy of Abby Nardo)

Ten days ago, a wave of tornadoes hit North Carolina. At least 23 people died.

The Saturday afternoon storm swept through Raleigh, where I live. My son and I saw heavy rain and hail, but no tornado. We live on the west side of town, and our house never lost power.

The center of Raleigh and points north and east took a much harder hit. Numerous trees were toppled, and homes were destroyed. Shaw University closed for the rest of the semester. Utilities were out for days. People, including children, died.

Despite that ferocity of the storm, many people in the city seemed oblivious to the situation. That prompted a friend to post a note on Facebook:

There was a natural disaster here two days ago. It might not have affected you directly, but this is your city. For those of us who were directly affected or close enough to see a lot of the damage, we’re a little shellshocked. Please do us a favor and let us know that you are aware of what happened. We’re having a little trouble when it seems like many of you didn’t notice or don’t care just because it’s not your home, car, or street. We know you don’t mean to be callous, so if you could just give us a sign…

It was a similar story in Sanford, a town about 4o miles southwest of Raleigh. A tornado there on April 16 destroyed a Lowe’s home improvement store and numerous homes. The Sanford Herald used Twitter to cover the aftermath of the storm, lowered the paywall on its website and published a special print edition — all laudable efforts.

To allow for more room for coverage of the tornado, the paper didn’t run the TV grid in the Sunday newspaper. That decision, according to editor Billy Liggett, prompted a complaint from a reader who wanted to know where the TV listings were. When Liggett told her that they’d been deleted to get in more news about the storm, the reader replied: “Well, the tornado didn’t hit my house.”

So why the disconnect? Are people that short-sighted or uncaring? Or is it because of the nature of tornadoes?

As this interactive map in The News & Observer shows, a tornado’s path is narrow. A hurricane’s path, in contrast, is wide and affects more people more broadly.

So what can newspapers and other media do the next time a tornado hits? Think about intensely local a tornado is, and cover those places with that same intensity, but also with compassion. In addition, help readers and viewers on the edge of the twister understand its terrible impact.

That’s what the “community” in “community journalism” is all about.

See more photos by Abby Nardo in this album on Facebook.