With chainsaws whirring, Sampson County begins storm cleanup
Posted May 30
Clinton, N.C. — People in Sampson County are cleaning up—and planning how to rebuild—after strong storms swept through the area on Monday night, destroying homes and snapping trees.
For the second time in as many weeks, people began the work of removing trees from roadways and lifting branches off cars and homes while others waited for their power to be turned back on.
The National Weather Service on Tuesday was evaluating the damage to determine if it was caused by a tornado or straight-line winds. Brandon Vincent, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said straight-line winds typically causes damage in one direction, such as trees falling from west to east.
In his surveys on Tuesday, Vincent said that's what the damage looked like in Sampson County.
"Everything that we've found, all the sites that we've been through today, there's been a very clear and consistent pattern, and that pattern has been things falling from west to east," Vincent said.
"It started hailing," said resident Victor Williams. "I heard 'tap, tap, tap,' all around the house. Then the wind picked up (and) I looked out from my front door and lightning hit this tree."
Despite the damage, Williams knows it could have been a different story.
"I'm still blessed, I'm thankful," he said. "It could have been worse. It could have been worse."
Brenda Smith was in her bedroom when her dog began barking, leading her to the kitchen.
"I went to the back door, and it was barely drizzling, and the wind was very light," Smith said. "I made it to the kitchen sink, and the lights flashed."
"I'm sitting out here behind where the kitchen would be on the ground on my knees, and my little dog is not there," she said. "But about two minutes later, here she comes."
With the help of neighbors and a firefighter, Smith was taken to family members' home and then the hospital. Aside from scrapes and bruises, she was not injured.
"I lost basically everything that I had in there. My car is damaged. I got my health. I got my family. I got friends and neighbors and people that actually care."
She said she feels lucky to be alive.
"Everything happens for a reason," she said. "I was meant to be in that kitchen. The good Lord sent that dog to take me to that kitchen."
At least 14 people were injured from the storm. Assistant County Manager Susan Holder said two people were taken to local hospitals via ambulance and another was transported by a sheriff's deputy.
Holder said none of the injuries were serious.
On Basstown Road, winds caused a mobile home to flip over, roll and land near the road. Neighbors in the area said that a woman was inside the home at the time of the incident, but first responders were able to get her out. She did not appear to be seriously injured, neighbors said.
Brandon Vincent with the National Weather Service in Raleigh told WRAL's Elizabeth Gardner that after seeing the damage from Monday night, he's convinced the severe weather was the result of straight-line thunderstorm winds and not a tornado.
"It's not that unusual for a smaller scale system to produce damage 30-40 miles," he said. "It would be unusual for a tornado to do damage of that width or length."
Straight-line winds form in strong thunderstorm. Updrafts can cause the storm to tower up to 30,000 feet and tap into the cold air causing it to drop quickly.
The air then hits the ground and spreads out in one direction, creating a swath of wind damage.
Vincent said the challenge is helping people understand the threat thunderstorm winds can pose.
"That's why we need to do a good job of messaging," he said. "The call to action, the nature of the threat. Using amped up wording. You hope that gets through."
Tuesday brings another chance of severe weather to central North Carolina, said WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner. The area is under a level one risk for damaging winds, heavy rain and hail on a five-level scale.