Tuesday, April 19, 2011

After tornado comes roar of attention

In each of Lowe’s 1,725 home improvement stores, managers and staff are trained for catastrophes. During hurricanes, for example, managers complete preparedness checklists that include items such as boarding up store windows.

For tornadoes, that checklist can be boiled down to this: Get everyone in the store to a safe place, pronto.

Three days after accomplishing just that, Mike Hollowell is a little stunned at the celebrity that comes with doing what you’re supposed to do.

Hollowell is manager of the Lowe’s in Sanford destroyed Saturday by a tornado that was among several storms claiming 22 lives in North Carolina. None of the deaths was at the Sanford Lowe’s, however, and Hollowell has since received hugs and thank-yous from customers and co-workers, along with dozens of interview requests and one phone call, Monday afternoon, from the president of the United States.

“Man,” he said Tuesday, “it’s been amazing.”

On Tuesday afternoon, while Lowe’s honored the Sanford staff by announcing a $250,000 donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, Hollowell tended to his own relief efforts. He, along with Lowe’s officials, transferred each Sanford employee to one of four nearby stores, and employees also were offered trauma counseling.

He’s relived the tornado hundreds of times, he says, especially in the immediate hours following, when rescue workers combed the piles of metal and broken glass that were once his store. “I thought we got everyone to a safe place,” he said. “But there were one or two that I wondered, ‘Did they listen to me and go?’ ”

Hours before, it was a normal Saturday, with the lighter crowd of do-it-yourselfers that comes with a rainy forecast. Near 3 p.m., about 10 minutes before the tornado struck, an employee told him of a tornado warning in Lee County, home of Sanford, about 40 miles southwest of Raleigh. Minutes later, he saw employees and customers running.

“I looked over and there it was,” he said. “It was so massive; it didn’t look like a tornado.”

He and other managers immediately began herding 100 or so customers and staffers to a safe room with no windows, while another manager got on the microphone to do the same. When Hollowell finally made his way toward the room, he looked back and saw the store’s roof peeling off.

Now, he tells everyone the same thing: It wasn’t just he who saved people. It was the staff. Of course, the public likes a face on its heroism, so the 30-year-old Hollowell has stood before cameras and notebooks and taken phone calls, including one Monday on his cell that showed up as “Unknown.”

When he answered, he was asked to hold, which he did until a woman picked up and said, “This is the secretary of the president of the United States.”

“Um,” Mike Hollowell replied, “this is Mike Hollowell.”

Moments later, Barack Obama said “Hello, Michael,” then thanked him for Saturday.

“Unbelievable,” said Hollowell by phone Tuesday, but he wonders, still humbly, why everyone is making a big deal about doing what his training told him to do. In a way, though, he understands. He has since watched a YouTube video at the store taken after the tornado hit. The video showed his staff helping customers out of the building.

Single file, Hollowell notes proudly. At their best in the worst kind of moment.


Anonymous said...

So naive. Anything any politician does is purely a pr stunt and naturally with NC going all Republican who would come calling to try to win brownie points than Obama espec since the DNC is headed there?

Anonymous said...


No doubt a lot of things politicians do is purely PR, however I dont think this is. I think #1 its like an unwritten rule that the president calls people after things of this nature, anytime someone is dubbed a hero...and #2 even as a republican I still think the president has a heart. I dont necessarily agree with his politics but that doesnt make him a bad person. Maybe he actually is touched by this case and wanted to personally thank him for what he did. Not everything politicians do is bad........just most of it.

Mark 5:9 said...

I, for one, find it odd that the Lowe's is getting so much attention. I'm glad the folks at Lowe's are safe, but lots of other people are still suffering. Many other businesses around the Lowe's were also lost (Big Lots, Tractor Supply, Food Lion). Further, I didn't get transferred to another location. I lost my job at Static Control along with lots of my former coworkers.