Local News

Three Dead, 29 Hurt As Tornado Hits N.C. Coastal Community

Posted August 13, 2004 5:56 a.m. EDT

— Governor Mike Easley declared a state of disaster in Pender County following Friday morning's tornado in which three people were killed.

The tornado spawned by remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie ripped through a small community of houses and mobile homes north of Wilmington.

The National Weather Service reports the tornado was moving at 130 mph and traveled for five miles. Other tornadoes were reported in counties to the north.

Two adults and an 18-month-old child were killed and as many as 25 homes were damaged, officials said.

One victim was 28-year-old Julio Pacheco, a native of Mexico who has been in the United States about eight years and worked with a local tree removal service, said his brother, Flavio Gonzalez.

Also killed was David Jordan, 26, who lived in a mobile home with his girlfriend, Aleisha Leonard, and their three children, the

Star-News of Wilmington


Leonard's brother, Shane Leonard of Wilmington, said Jordan had two children in his arms when the home collapsed. Rescuers saved the children, but couldn't help Jordan.

Aleisha Leonard and an infant were thrown onto the lawn as they tried to escape, Shane Leonard said.

Two children suffered minor injuries, and the third was in intensive care but expected to recover, a family friend said.

"She wanted the whole world to know what a great daddy he was and that he died saving his children," said Angela Beacham, Leonard's friend.

Albert Brown, 43, felt lucky that he and his family survived after the winds ripped their rented mobile home apart and blew the frame a football field away.

"The trailer started rocking and one of the windows busted," said Brown. "The rain and the wind, we felt like we were right in the eye of the tornado."

The carpenter and his wife and four children were scattered around the yard by the wind. Brown said he shut his eyes at one point because there was so much water in his face and when he opened them his home on N.C. Highway 210 was demolished -- all that was standing was the cinderblock foundation.

Brown said his 7-year-old son D.J. was sent to the University of North Carolina Hospitals in Chapel Hill after complaining of neck, stomach and chest pain. Brown sought shelter for the rest of his family in a day-care center.

Nearby, a beige sofa was impaled on the remaining limb of a tree that had been stripped by the storm. A crew from a Burgaw veterinary hospital picked up stray animals.

Annette Glover, 65, stood in her front yard and marveled that a 60-foot tree that smashed her rear bedroom didn't get her and husband, Robert. She heard winds during the night and moved to another room.

"The wind got my attention, the wind and the rain ... we moved up to the front bedroom because of the tree," Glover said.

Glover said she owned her home but didn't have insurance. A storage building was blown away, not to be seen anywhere.

Gov. Mike Easley flew over the area and took a brief tour by car. He was given a letter declaring a disaster in the county by Dwight Strickland, chairman of the county commissioners.

The declaration means that once damage is greater than one half of 1 percent of the county budget, the county is eligible for the state to pay 75 percent of some cost above that.

The Pender tornado was but one of a series that roared across eastern North Carolina. Pender County Sheriff Carson Smith said the tornado was the worst he had seen.

The winds hit about 4:15 a.m. as a string of tornadoes ripped across eastern North Carolina.

A shelter was set up at nearby Trask High School for about 100 residents of destroyed houses and trailers. Officials said 25 homes had major damage.

In Beaufort County, a funnel cloud touched down near Bath around 7 a.m., knocking out power and causing damage to some buildings.

A tornado also was reported by law enforcement nine miles northwest of Belhaven. The funnel cloud was moving northeast at 35 mph, the National Weather Service said.

Tornadoes were reported in Onslow County. A suspected tornado ripped the roof off a duplex near Richlands and injured one person, officials said. The winds stripped cornstalks from a nearby field.

A waterspout, which forms when a tornado moves over water, hit a campground in the Carteret County community of Stella and overturned camping trailers, said Carteret County Emergency Management Director Mark Condra. Yet another funnel cloud was seen at the Jones County line.

A day earlier strong winds suspected to be tornadoes hit Harnett and Rockingham counties as remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie pushed through after a landfall in the Florida panhandle. Two mobile homes were ripped apart by another tornado.