Health Team

Tornadoes in Cumberland, Wake test local emergency rooms

Posted April 18, 2011 6:46 p.m. EDT
Updated April 18, 2011 11:35 p.m. EDT

— The severe weather system that spawned 62 tornado touchdowns throughout central and eastern North Carolina Saturday tested the disaster response capabilities of local hospitals.

As the storm swept through Cumberland County, catching many people by surprise, at least one person was killed and dozens were injured. Authorities said they treated 50 people at field clinics and took 35 to local hospitals.

Despite storm warnings throughout the day on Saturday, some people went about their business as usual, including barber William Parker.

“Well, we were watching Channel 5. Matter of fact, I was working, cutting a head of hair,” he said.

Suddenly, the storm front he was monitoring on television was blowing through the front door of his barber shop, in the 4600 block of Yadkin Road in Fayetteville, where roofs were ripped off businesses and cars were lifted off the ground.

Parker said he ran for cover, but when the dust cleared, he found himself lying in a pile of bricks and rubble. He had two broken ribs, a broken collar bone and a badly swollen knee.

“By the time that wind blew, it seemed like something just sucked the whole top up. The wall caved in on me,” Parker said. “The guy working beside me, he got hit in the head. I don’t know what happened to him.”

A group of Fort Bragg soldiers came to Parker’s rescue, he said.

“The guys in the military rose to the occasion because they threw all that stuff off of me,” he said.

Parker was rushed to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, where emergency room doctors hustled to deal with the influx of storm victims.

Dr. Keith Messner said the approximately 20 patients who piled up in the hospital's waiting room after the tornado had mostly broken bones and lacerations. Some had head injuries, but they were all suffering from terror.

“You not only had to deal with the physical injuries, but the emotional injuries as well,” Messner said.

“I’d never seen anything like that in my whole life,” Parker said, adding that he’s surprised to be alive.

In Wake County, three children died. Dozens of people were injured.

Throughout the WakeMed system, emergency rooms in Raleigh, north Raleigh, Cary and Apex treated a total of 47 patients with storm-related injuries. Thirteen patients remain hospitalized, two were transferred and 35 were treated and released, a hospital spokeswoman said Monday.

The hospital urged people involved in storm damage clean-up efforts to take extra safety precautions, especially when working with chainsaws to clear fallen trees and branches.

“Chainsaws are inherently dangerous tools, and people who do not have experience simply should not operate a chainsaw,” said Dr. Osi Udekwu, director of the trauma unit at WakeMed's flagship hospital in Raleigh.

“Chainsaw lacerations are very difficult to treat because they do not cause clean cuts,” Udekwu said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency echoed WakeMed’s concerns. The agency cautioned anyone using chainsaws in the relief effort to review the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s chainsaw safety information.