COLUMBUS COUNTY -- One year ago today eight lives were lost when a tornado touched down in Riegelwood. Emergency responders say the disaster taught them how to better handle emergency situations, because they had problems communicating with each other that day. Columbus County Sheriff Chris Batten says law enforcement officers, EMS and firefighters were not on the same radio frequencies. The Riegelwood rescue chief says that led to problems. For example, some agencies did not realize there were two disaster sites, one off Highway 87 and the other on Holly Tree Road. Since the tornado the sheriff's office has received funding for radios that will connect them with other local agencies and with state agencies such as the Highway Patrol. Batten said, "The radios are in Raleigh, we just have to go and pick them up and get our frequencies installed into them and then have some training on how to use these hand held frequencies." Batten says he expects the radios to arrive in the next couple of months. Holly Tree Road Most people here on Holly Tree Road were sleeping or getting ready for work when they heard that sound of a train. After the tornado hit debris was everywhere. One year later the community is still healing. Acme-Delco Elementary School Principal Janet Hedrick said, "A year ago today this house behind me was completely destroyed to the ground by the tornado that went through." Hedrick remembers the tornado just like it was yesterday. "People's personal belongings, everything that meant anything to them was just lying all over the ground," Hendrick said. "There were a lot of tears shed, people lost lives and everything that meant anything to them." Her school became a shelter and counseling center for victims. "Everyone felt the pain of what had happened, students who were not directly affected by the tornado were indirectly affected as they saw the tears and the grief experienced by the families who had lost loved ones," Hendrick said. The students at Acme-Delco Elementary lost a friend, first-grader Danny Jacobs. Hendrick said. "We lost a little boy from our school and we have a memorial set up for him so families will know that after the debris has been picked up and lives go on and the love is shown that we still have not forgotten those who have lost. Wnd we think about them and we care about the families." Hedrick says love for one another and love from the community is helping students heal. "We appreciate the love and support that was given by the community. We really are so grateful and everyone still remembers the loss and it's not forgotten," Hendrick said. Hedrick hopes nothing like this ever happens here again, but she knows the community can make it through anything.
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