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ONLY ON 3: Sanford Lowe’s back open after tornado demolished it

SANFORD, NC (WWAY) — April 16 is a day that many of us will unlikely forget any time soon. That’s the day that a series of tornadoes tore through the Carolinas.

In our area, Bladen County was hit particularly hard, where four people were killed and many, many more affected.

Perhaps the lasting image for most people, though, is of a Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Lee County, which was reduced to rubble. The extent of the damage and the fact that all inside walked out unharmed became a national story.

That Lowe’s held a grand reopening today just 90 days after the tornado. It’s a sign that recovery and rebuilding efforts are making progress.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Lowe’s in Sanford for the grand reopening.

“It was so massive,” store manager Michael Hollowell said of the damage. “At first, I didn’t even really know what it was. And then when I saw stuff flying into it, I knew we needed to get everyone to safety.”

The storm demolished the store, leaving the City of Sanford and the employees of Lowe’s with many questions.

“We were thinking, at least I was, what am I gonna do now? I don’t have a job. Am I gonna have to draw unemployment? We didn’t know what we were gonna do because our store, our job was blown away,” store employee Kim Thomas said.

Lowe’s moved the employees to other stores while rebuilding. Now, 160 workers are back at the Sanford store, and customers can shop in their own community again.

“This is a Godsend that everyone was OK and came back, and it makes our life a lot easier,” customer Sharon Conklin said.

First responders to the tornado say they can not believe how quickly the new store was back up and running.

“It’s a tremendous difference from what we saw on the afternoon of April 16 versus what we’re seeing now,” emergency worker Billy Leach said. “It’s a tremendous asset to the community and especially community resilience.”

Employees say local leaders worked quickly to get the store back open for the entire community.

“The whole community went through the tornado,” Lowe’s Regional VP Jeff Blocker said. “We suffered through it together, so I think they saw this as an opportunity to help our employees come back to the market and also provide a service for all the local customers.”

Lowe’s estimates reopening the store will bring about $10 million worth of revenue back to the community. The Wilkesboro-based company says it thinks the hottest items on the shelves are hurricane kit items and things to repair tornado damage.

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