Residents recover from storms, confirmed tornado in Granville County

Posted February 25, 2016 11:05 a.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2016 9:34 p.m. EST

Cleanup began Thursday morning after a series of tornadoes and strong wind ripped through area towns, causing particular damage in Durham and Granville Counties.

Tornadoes were spotted Wednesday in Cumberland, Durham, Granville and Vance counties as the rest of the region experienced high winds and heavy rain. The National Weather Service in Raleigh confirmed Thursday that an EF-2 tornado with maximum wind speeds of 125 mph touched down at 4:32 p.m. and remained on the ground for five miles Wednesday along Huntsboro Road in Granville County, which came as no surprise to residents who lived through the storm.

"All of it's in the good Lord's hands, that's all I can say," said tornado victim Cynthia Watkins.

Watkins was at a friend's house when the tornado blew out the side of her house. She spent much of the day looking for her missing cats.

"I'm missing Romeo, Jacob, and Samantha," Watkins said.

Elsewhere in Granville County, three homes and a farm were damaged, and farm owner Sears Day said he felt lucky that his dairy farm sustained only minor damage and all of his cattle remained unharmed.

"I'm just glad nobody got hurt and we didn't lose any animals. The rest of it can be put back," he said.

Day said that he has received an outpouring of support as he works to rebuild the farm that has been in operation since 1943.

"It's just remarkable. I mean, everybody calls. I don't know how many calls I've gotten and emails. Everybody wants to help," Day said.

Thursday, Day's biggest concern was getting power restored to the area to power milking machines for the cattle that need to be milked twice a day. He has been relying on a generator since Wednesday night.

State and county emergency management officials said it could be days before they have a total on damage estimates, but the good news is nobody was hurt in the tornado.

"It's unbelievable. You never know how blessed you are," said resident Dale Harrison. "The lord was with me and I'm thankful that none of the farmers were hurt while they were milking the cows, and they didn't lose a cow, but it's devastating."

In Durham, a mother and her two children were able to escape unharmed after a tree came crashing through a child’s bedroom during the storm.

Bull City Tree Service brought out a wood chipper to begin cleaning branches and downed trees in Durham Thursday morning, including a tree that cracked at its base and toppled onto a Rosebriar Drive home.

"A police officer, he called and said 'I hate to tell you, but there's a tree on your house and you need to come home'," said homeowner Paula Nunley.

A day after a storm caused a tree to crash down on her living room and garage, Nunley was still taking it all in and wrapping her head around the work that she will face in the near future.

"It was worse than I imagined. I didn't think it would be this bad," she said. "The insurance is going to take care of it, thank goodness. It will be a bit of a pain for a few weeks until they get things fixed."

Nunley said her insurance will provide her with a place to stay until the repairs to her home, which she expects to take several weeks, are completed.

As cleanup got underway, homeowners began assessing the damage and and recalling the most intense moments of the storm. Susan Dodd, who hid in her closet as the storm passed through, was taking care of her smashed car after a tree fell on it. She said she never doubted that everything would be ok.

"I thought we would be alright. Of course, the man upstairs always helps us, but I really wasn't too worried," she said.

Bull City Tree Service owner Currie Barnette said that cleaning up fallen trees is just the start of the process for residents in Durham and beyond.

"Usually, how it works is right after the storm, the insurance companies want to get pictures and all that. Most of the cleanup is done a couple days after the pictures are taken and the insurance companies come out and do their initial evaluation of the damage," Barnette said.

Two tornadoes were also confirmed to have touched down in Duplin County.

In Chatham County, authorities said that most of the damage they saw from the storm was on N.C. Highway 902 near old U.S. Highway 421 south and U.S. Highway 421 south. In Moore County, the emergency services director said that the area saw downed trees and power lines throughout the county, but no serious damage to structures.

In Sampson County, an awning was blown off a BP gas station on U.S. Highway 701 and there were reports of damage to barns and homes.

The high winds left thousands without power Wednesday night, and by 4:45 p.m. Thursday, Duke Energy said about 17,000 were still without power in North Carolina. At the peak of the storm, more than 127,000 customers in North Carolina and South Carolina had lost power, Duke said. They expected power would be restored to most customers by midnight.

Thursday afternoon, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a State of Emergency, waving vehicle weight and hours of service restrictions, so that utility crews could restore power quickly.