Local News

Storms Damage Property, Injure Two

Posted May 6, 1998

— Unconfirmed tornadoes touched down in nine North Carolina counties Thursday, causing property damage and at least two injuries.

Two people in Caswell County were hurt when a funnel cloud touched down on their mobile home. The trailer was destroyed.

Twenty residents of a rest home there had to be evacuated when the storm lifted the roof, then put it back down. No one was injured.

The worst damage was reported in the Triad and points west.

Andrew Vadeboncouer fled his Alexander County mobile home Thursday with his daughters, two cats and family dog minutes before a tornado whipped their mobile home into the air and dropped it on its roof.

As shingles off nearby houses whizzed past, Vadeboncouer drove to a nearby Winn-Dixie grocery store for shelter.

``I came home to see my home destroyed and I didn't know if they were in there, if my family was in there, if they were trapped,'' said Debbie Vadeboncouer, who arrived at their Bethlehem home after the storm passed.

In rural Caldwell County, Wade Smith was shaving when he saw his 1,500-pound bull slide across a field. His roof then blew off just before he hurried to the basement with his dog.

``I didn't realize I had so much junk,'' Smith said, surveying the damage with flecks of pink insulation in his hair.

Along its path, high winds, tornados and rains brought misery to dozens of communities, but there were no reports of serious injuries.

Emergency crews opened shelters in Alexander and Lincoln counties for residents whose homes were toppled or ripped open by falling trees.

At least 40,000 customers lost electricity in Winston-Salem and Wilmington alone during the peak of the storms.

Duke Energy said 15,000 customers were still without power this morning, down from a peak of 50,000 at the height of the severe weather Thursday night. Spokesman William Blanton says 12,000 customers in Winston-Salem are without electricity, as are 2,000 customers in High Point.

Blanton said service should be restored by late afternoon.

The rough weather came from a cluster of storms that formed over the Appalachian mountains and then followed Interstate 40 through the state's major population centers as far as coastal Wilmington, said Ed Delgado, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Raleigh. Powerful storms also struck Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.

``This is a severe season for North Carolina. It's not unusual in that respect,'' Delgado said.

New storm warnings were issued early today in western North Carolina and large hail was reported in Henderson County.

Wind speeds Thursday reached 40 mph at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, the weather service said. The airport closed to flights for about 45 minutes.

Just south of High Point, Ginger Bowman returned to her house in Archdale to discover a tree had smashed through the corner of house, punching a hole through the siding at a corner bathroom. Another limb impaled the roof.

``Tell everyone it's a fixer-upper,'' she joked as she surveyed the damage with neighbors.

``I've never seen a storm so intense,'' said neighbor Keith Shelton.

Police drove through streets near the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, warning residents over the loudspeakers, ``There's a tornado. Move away from your windows.''

One storm collapsed a barn onto at least 24 of Pat Painter's Texas longhorn cattle in Iredell County. At least 150 firefighters and others labored into the night to free the animals.

The neon signs along a fast-food strip in Clemmons were peeled bare. Shards of broken plastic and downed power lines littered the road. A sign for the Super 8 hotel along I-40 was bent at a 45-degree angle.

Water flooded one road, forcing Joe Zifchak to abandon his blue Eagle Talon. He stood on the roadside, his pants rolled up to his knees, watching water roll in over the car's floorboards.

Zifchak was returning home from his job at a car-rental agency when his Talon stalled in a foot of water.

``It's not a bad place to work if you need a car, actually,'' he said. ``I guess I'll be needing one.''

Workers in Iredell County had to arrange a rescue mission for livestock. Dozens of cattle got stuck in the mud when a barn collapsed on them. The ground was so wet from the heavy rain, the escaping cows and bulls just sank. Community members gathered to help save the animals.

One mobile home in Alexander County was another casualty of the storm. Residents said that a funnel cloud tore the home off its foundation.

"It was pretty scary," resident John Filbrook said. "We were watching the storm form, and my wife was getting ready to put the kids in the closet with the comforter over them. I was watching out on the front porch a kind of rotation of the clouds starting, and with that it started to come down rapidly and started to increase in its rotation. It looked like a barrel."

Closer to the Triange, tornado warnings were posted Wednesday night in Alamance, Guilford, Chatham, Wake and Johnston counties. There were no reports of significant damage in those areas, although about 6,000 CP&L customers lost their power. Some cable services were knocked out, keeping fans of NBC's "Seinfeld" show from seeing the second-to-last episode. The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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