First Response Team of America Tornado Relief | Raleigh Photographer

On April 16, 2011, a series of tornadoes ripped through North Carolina and other states in the Southeast, taking 24 lives in North Carolina alone and causing massive damage and destruction to homes and businesses.

Sanford, in Lee County, was one of the areas hit. The tornadoes caused approximately $60 million dollars in damage there, with 500 homes damaged and 116 completely destroyed. There were two fatalities.

One of the homes that was destroyed in Sanford was the home of Kevin and Cindy Busick. They will have been married for 20 years this month and built their home in 2004. Kevin is an airplane mechanic and was out of the country when the tornadoes came through. Cindy was at home and stayed in the bathtub with her puppy (you can see the bathtub in a photo below). The tornado tossed Cindy and her puppy the length of a football field while still in the bathtub, but they survived. It was a miracle. You can read more of their story on theĀ Red Cross website.

Although Cindy was okay, thanks in part to friends and neighbors who helped remove the debris from around her, their home was not. It was completely flattened.

That’s where First Response Team of America came in. Tad Agoglia is the founder of First Response Team of America and started his non-profit when he saw a need for help in disaster areas. He noticed that it often took days, or sometimes weeks, for help to reach people after a disaster so he decided to start an organization that could truly be first responders. They track weather patterns and anticipate disasters so that they can be first on the ground to help when it’s really needed. They coordinate with other organizations, like Caterpillar (who provided equipment and a team of volunteers on April 29th to help clear Kevin and Cindy’s home site), to get equipment to the disaster sites so that maximum work can be accomplished. I was so impressed with the work that everyone did that day and I continue to be impressed by First Response Team for the difference they’re making in the lives of so many. You can read more about this great organization and what they’re doing here. If you’d like to make a donation so that they can continue with their amazing work, you can do that here.

The First Response Team of America and Caterpillar volunteers went through the entire home site, being careful to look for any salvageable items, especially pictures and documents. Thankfully, a few things were recovered. Even though they have lost their home, Kevin and Cindy have such amazing attitudes and spirit. Cindy even decided she’d like to make a mosaic table out of some of the broken plates that were found on the site, including a piece of her grandmother’s china. Cindy told me, “I’m just not going to let this bring me down. I’ve got too much to live for.”

This is the bathtub that Cindy and her puppy were in during the tornado.

Kevin and Cindy Busick

Andy (left) and Tad (right) from the First Response Team of America

Shane Seagroves, Director of Emergency Services for Lee County

A couch cushion ended up in a tree (left).

Lisa Mathews, a friend, neighbor, and retired fire fighter who helped Cindy and others after the tornado hit.

Kevin and Cindy on the left with the team

A photo of Kevin and Cindy’s kids (now in college), found under some debris.

Kevin with some photos that were recovered and change found half-way buried in the ground.

James Brophy, Operations Manager for Caterpillar’s Lee County plant.

This is Cameron. He’s been doing his part by directing traffic in the disaster area.

The very foundation of their home (left) and insulation resting on branches (right).

The American flag, duct taped to a tree near a neighbor’s destroyed home.