Published: 2008-05-12 05:27:00
Updated: 2008-05-12 22:25:50
Posted May 12, 2008
Belgrade, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley on Monday dispatched damage assessment teams to the eastern part of the state, where storms and tornadoes hit towns in Onslow, Jones and Bertie counties.
It might be Tuesday, however, before officials know what type of assistance to request, Easley said.
As many as 16 tornadoes were reported to have moved through that area late Sunday afternoon, and there were at least 13 reports of minor injuries – including six in Onslow County. (Go inside the storm.)
Citing the National Weather Service, Mark Goodman, director of Onslow County Emergency Management, said an EF-2 tornado with wind speeds reaching 120 mph touched down there, destroying seven structures and damaging 15 others, seven of which sustained major damage. (Greg Fishel explains the EF scale.)
Total damage estimates are about $327,500, Goodman said.
Mobile homes leveled in Onslow County
Onslow County emergency officials said the tornado leveled a convenience store and six mobile homes off U.S. Highway 17. (Watch Mike Charbonneau's report.)
Bobby Smith, of Belgrade, said a flying piece of debris hit him in the head and knocked him unconscious while he was looking at a funnel cloud out the door of his mobile home.
The tornado tore off the roof, stood the home on one end and dropped it back down with his wife, Tina, and 9-year-old daughter, Page, inside, Smith said. (Watch Smith talk about his experience as he surveys damage from the storm.)
"I thought my wife and child were gone," Smith said. "That's the first thing I done, start hollering for them. I could hear my wife hollering for me. And when I got to her, they were lying side by side."
His wife and daughter were trapped underneath the refrigerator, Smith said. He helped them get out, and the family members only suffered cuts and bruises, for which they were treated at a local hospital.
The tornado also leveled the Belgrade Express Mart and destroyed six units in the Belgrade Mobile Home Estates, both at U.S. 17 and White Oak Road, said Jerry Parker Sr., who owns buildings on both properties. (Watch Sky 5 video of the damage in Onslow County.)
The convenience-store's owner, Mohammed Almaghrabi, and Parker's son, Jerry Parker Jr., were driving to the store when they saw the tornado.
"I could see the tornado coming from the back, and everything was in the sky flying, so I couldn't make it to the store," Almaghrabi said.
An employee inside the store escaped unharmed.
The elder Parker said that due to hard financial times, he did not have insurance on either the store or the mobile home park. However, Parker added that although it would be tough to get things back together, he planned to pick up the pieces.
The main part of the Belgrade Express Mart building was constructed in 1947. It had survived hurricanes Hazel, Fran and Floyd.
Storm flattens century-old church in Bertie County
Nine people were injured and 34 buildings damaged by hail in Bertie County, Easley said during a news conference Monday morning on the state budget. (Watch Sky 5 video of the damage in Bertie County.)
Officials said two people were injured and major damage occurred in that county, including the 120-year-old Luella Baptist Church, which was flattened in the winds. (Watch Erin Coleman's report.)
Services are still held at the historic church, but no one was inside when a tornado blew off the roof, walls collapsed and everything inside was crushed.
"I just thank God no one was here to get hurt," said Oscar Jones, who serves as a deacon. "We can always rebuild, but the main thing is no one got hurt."
His grandfather and father were baptized at the church. Now, other churches in the area have offered their buildings for service.
"You don't expect things like this," he said. "You certainly don't."
Elsewhere, rains and winds
Officials confirmed that a tornado touched down at Cat's Square in Lincoln County, west of Charlotte.
Reports of wind damage also came in from Goldston in Chatham County.
The weekend storms brought 1.02 inches of rain to Chapel Hill and 0.94 inches to Raleigh-Durham International Airport, according to the National Weather Service.
In northeastern North Carolina, Elizabeth City received 0.33 inches of rain. Farther south along the coast, New Bern got 0.79 inches.
Fayetteville and Goldsboro each had around a third of an inch, while Lumberton received 0.83 inches.
Roanoke Rapids came in with 0.59 inches and Rocky Mount with 0.37.