Published: 2012-01-11 07:23:00
Updated: 2012-01-12 17:58:58
Posted January 11, 2012
Updated January 12, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — The National Weather Service said it was a tornado that damaged dozens of homes and injured at least 15 people in western North Carolina.
The weather service's forecast office in Greer, S.C., said Thursday that investigators confirmed the EF2 tornado with winds of around 115 miles per hour.
The storm system struck Rutherford and Burke counties Wednesday afternoon. At least 10 people were hurt in the Ellenboro community of Rutherford County, with five injures reported in Burke County.
Burke County Fire Marshal Mark Pitts said at least 16 homes were destroyed and about 50 others damaged.
At least 10 buildings were damaged in a 3-square-mile residential area, but Rutherford County, sheriff's Sgt. Dwayne Wright said officials expected to get a better count on the damage during surveys Thursday.
Some people initially were trapped in their homes.
"Everybody's out that we know of," Wright said. "As far as we know, everybody has been accounted for."
A woman in Ellenboro told WCNC-TV that a neighbor's roof ended up in her front yard.
"It felt like the whole house was shaking, and all at once you could hear stuff just breaking apart and tearing up. It was frightening," said Mary Jane Hollifield.
One woman said the storm hit so quickly that she thought she was going to die.
"Just as I sat down, it hit, and I said, ' Oh Lord, take care of me," she said. "I could hear it rumbling, and I knew there would be real bad damage."
At least five people were hurt when the storm struck a few minutes later in the Icard area in eastern Burke County, where a mobile home park was nearly wiped out.
There were multiple injuries and damage to other homes, including one family being trapped in a basement when the storm toppled the house on top of them.
"We know we have 16 homes destroyed and about 50 that have been damaged to various degrees," Burke County Fire Marshal Mark Pitts said.
In Hildebrand, about 3 miles east of Icard, roofs were torn off buildings, trees were toppled, and at one house, a truck was flipped.
There were also power outages, with around 100 customers still without electricity Thursday morning, according to Pitts. This is the first time he can remember such a severe storm at this time of year in the western county about an hour's drive north of Charlotte.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter in Icard. The relief agency said at least 15 people had checked into the shelter at a church by 9 p.m.
Burke County schools open two hours later than usual Thursday.
Gov. Bev Perdue toured the tour the area Thursday morning and met with victims after being briefed by emergency management officials on recovery efforts.