Published: 2014-04-28 14:25:00
Updated: 2014-04-28 18:42:40
Posted April 28, 2014 2:25 p.m. EDT
Updated April 28, 2014 6:42 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday declared a state of emergency for Beaufort, Chowan, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties in the wake of Friday’s severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
“What I witnessed firsthand in Beaufort, Chowan and Perquimans counties is a stark reminder of how damaging tornadoes can be,” McCrory, who toured storm-ravaged areas on Sunday, said in a statement. “My heart goes out to the hundreds of people dealing with property damage, injuries and even the loss of life. In times like these, we must stick together and help each other out, and we will do all that we can to help communities hit by these storms.”
Eight tornadoes raked across eastern North Carolina late Friday, and one in Chowan County killed 11-month-old Gavin Soto.
Family friends said Gavin's mother tried to shield him from the storm, but they both wound up pinned under debris when a tornado demolished the family's home. Gavin died a day later from his injuries.
"When you lose a child, you've lost part of yourself," said Sue Brown, a friend of the boy's family.
Other Chowan County residents lost much, if not all, that they own.
The EF-2 tornado destroyed 80-year-old Louise Bonner's home.
"All this stuff started falling, the wind started blowing, and girl, I started hollering, 'Lord, Lord, help me Lord. Somebody help me,'" Bonner said, adding that she doesn't know where to turn.
More than 325 homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed by the storms, with Beaufort County bearing the brunt of the damage. Nearly 200 homes and buildings were destroyed or damaged, primarily in the Chocowinity and Whichards Beach area.
The emergency declaration is the first step in seeking federal funds to help defray the cost of providing emergency services, clearing debris and repairing any damaged public infrastructure. It also triggers the price gouging law in those areas.
Teams of local and state emergency managers began working over the weekend with impacted communities to survey damages caused by Friday’s tornadoes and severe storms. Employees from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were expected to join those teams Tuesday to help determine if renters, homeowners, businesses owners or local governments qualify for federal financial assistance to help in the recovery. The teams hope to complete the damage assessments by the end of the week.
In the Brinkleyville area of Halifax County, insurance adjusters have already declared Sam Richardson's home a total loss.
"I didn't know whether the house was going to stay or go away. It felt like it was going away," said Richardon, who cowered inside the shuddering home with his wife and three grandchildren.
An EF-1 tornado 75 yards wide ripped a 2-mile path through the community. Residents said drizzle had just started and there was no wind when the tornado suddenly was on top of them.
"It was like a roaring noise," said Yashica Lynch, Richardson's neighbor. "You could see where the red dirt was turning in the air."
Most of Richardson's roof was ripped off, as was the covered porch. Carports were thrown into nearby woods – one flew over a neighbor's house – and a shed was razed to its foundation. A metal beam pierced the side of the home into a room where Richardson was.
A backyard dog pen was crushed, and the family feared their 3-year-old German shepherd was gone because she wasn't in the debris after the storm. Later, they found the frightened dog on the front porch waiting for the family.
"I would say it was a miracle not one of us got hurt – not even a scratch," Richardson said.